Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball:Hoppers drop one in top of the ninth

Hoppers drop one in top of the ninth
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

It was a slugfest early, then turned into a taut, tight game Thursday night at First National Bank Field.

When it ended, the Hoppers had dropped a 7–5 decision to Kannapolis, their third straight loss on this home stand. They slid to 19–19 in the second half but didn’t get hurt in the Northern Division standings.

In fact, the standings were amazingly tight after Thursday’s results. Only four games separated first place from seventh place. The Hoppers were in fourth, just two games behind Hagerstown and Hickory and just two games ahead of seventh-place Lakewood. Thirty games remain in the regular season to sort it all out.

This one was there for the taking. But, despite four hits by and two RBIs by James Nelson, the Hoppers couldn’t take it.

“We couldn’t get the closeout hit or the closeout play,” said manager Todd Pratt.

After the teams combined for nine runs in the first three innings, with Kannapolis taking a 5–4 lead, pitchers settled down and took over. The Hoppers scored a run in the seventh inning when Nelson hit his third double of the game to score Aaron Knapp with the tying run.

Greensboro pitching put zeroes on the board from the fourth through the eighth innings. Starter Max Duval settled down after a rocky start and stopped the Intimidators in the fourth and fifth innings. Kyle Keller turned in three impressive innings, allowing no hits and retiring nine of 10 batters.

In the ninth, left-hander Nestor Bautista struck out the first batter, then gave up a single. He thought he had struck out Luis Gonzalez for what would have been the second out, but the close pitch was called a ball. Gonzalez then singled to left field, sending runner Mitch Roman to third.

Bautista got Zach Remillard to hit a tailor-made double play ball to shortstop Rony Cabrera, who didn’t field it cleanly. Cabrera recovered quickly and tossed to second baseman J.C. Millan for one out. Millan’s relay to first was close but Remillard was called safe as Roman scored the go-ahead run. Evan Beal relieved Bautista and was tagged for an RBI single that gave the Intimidators an insurance run.

“Bautista induced a routine ground ball and we didn’t make the play,” Pratt said. “It was close at first base and I’m not saying if he was safe or out. We just didn’t get the call.”

Kannapolis won the first-half pennant in the Northern Division to qualify for the playoffs. Several of its best players were promoted to the High A Winston-Salem Dash, but the roster was re-stocked with high picks from this year’s draft by the Chicago White Sox. Top choice Jake Burger went 1-for-4, second pick Gavin Sheets from Wake Forest was 1-for-3 and scored a run, and third-rounder Luis Gonzalez went 1-for-3.

The Intimidators still have holdver Micker Adolfo from the first half. The 20-year-old slugger belted two long solo home runs, one to left field and then a monster shot that cleared the batter’s eye in center field. Catcher Casey Schroeder also ripped a two-run homer.

The those came off Max Duval, recently signed out of the independent Frontier League.

“He throws a cutter that didn’t do much early in the game,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “It stayed flat and all three homers were on cutters. He settled down in the fourth and fifth innings, which was impressive to see. He’s got some good stuff that we can work with.”

Keller’s outing impressed DiFelice.

“You like to see that out of a prospect,” he said. “I think the (Marlins) organization will like that.”

Nelson was the biggest part of the Hoppers offense, which produced 12 hits. He had his first four-hit game of the season. His three doubles boosted his total to 27 and he increased his RBIs to 55.

Walker Olis had a triple and a double and Knapp scored twice.

The series continues Friday with Michael King starting for the Hoppers.