Bill Hass on Baseball:Playoff berth within Hoppers’ grasp

Playoff berth within Hoppers’ grasp
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

It comes down to this for the Hoppers Monday?—?win and they’re in.

The Hoppers did their part Sunday by beating Hickory 3–1, an outcome that eliminated the Crawdads. West Virginia fell to Delmarva, also by 3–1, so Greensboro moved into first place in the SAL Northern Division.

The Hoppers, who have played two fewer games than the Power, have a 37–30 record with a winning percentage of .552. West Virginia, at 38–31, has a percentage of .551. And the best percentage determines who finishes first.

If the Hoppers beat Hickory Monday in the 1 p.m. game at L.P. Frans Stadium, they win the Northern Division in the second half no matter what the Power does in its 2 o’clock game at Delmarva.

“Since our game starts an hour earlier, we don’t have to worry about the scoreboard,” said Hoppers manager Todd Pratt in a telephone call. “We can just worry about us.”

There are two other scenarios. One, if the Hoppers lose and West Virginia wins, the Power wins the division. Two, if the Hoppers and West Virginia both lose, the Hoppers finish first, again because of a better winning percentage.

But the most direct route to the playoff berth against first-half winner Kannapolis is to win Monday.

Pitching, as it has most of the season, came up big Sunday. Michael King hurled six shutout innings to pick up his 11th win, which ties a Hoppers season record. Nestor Bautista pitched a scoreless seventh and Chad Smith earned a two-inning save.

The Hoppers flirted with trouble all day, but the pitchers kept working around it. Smith provided the only three-up, three-down inning, in the eighth.

He was shaky to start the bottom of the ninth, giving up a walk, an infield hit and a single that scored a Crawdads run. Smith got Blaine Prescott to ground out to first base as the runners moved to second and third. He then got

Yohel Pozo to strike out swinging and Leody Taveras to strike out looking to end the game.

“King was in control with no stress,” Pratt said. “Smith had a little traffic in the ninth. I have to credit Hickory because they kept battling.”

The offense got what it needed early. In the top of the first, Aaron Knapp singled and stole second base and scored on James Nelson’s double. The Hoppers went on to load the bases but a double play ended the threat.

In the second, Rony Cabrera reached on a one-out error and Luis Pintor singled on a hit-and-run. Cabrera went to third and drew a throw, which allowed Pintor to move to second base. Brian Miller’s infield hit scored Cabrera and Knapp singled in Pintor to make it 3–0. The Hickory bullpen held the score there through the ninth.

“Our offense got off to a quick start,” Pratt said, “but we couldn’t break it open. Then they shut us down the rest of the night. But our bullpen did the same to them.”

Pintor had three hits, including a double, and scored a run. Knapp had two hits, a run, an RBI and two stolen bases, which brought his season total to 34. Nelson’s double was his 31st and his RBI lifted that total to 58.
Miller drove in a run and stole his 20th base.

Dustin Beggs (9–6, 3.93) will start Monday’s game against Hickory’s Michael Matuella (4–6, 4.37). He has faced Hickory twice, winning at home on June 15 and finishing with a no-decision on Aug. 18 when he had a 6–0 lead after two innings but couldn’t return after the game had a long rain delay. Matuella faced the Hoppers once, gaining a win on Aug. 9.