Bill on Baseball:Hoppers’ rally comes up short in 9th

Hoppers’ rally comes up short in 9th
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

At least the Hoppers didn’t let their winning streak get snapped without a fight.

Trailing Augusta by six runs going into the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night, they cobbled together a pair of walks and four hits, including three straight infield hits, to score three runs. When Marcos Rivera came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, he represented the winning run, unlikely as that seemed when the inning started.

That forced the GreenJackets to bring in their second pitcher of the inning. John Russell got the job done, striking out Rivera to close out a 7–4 win.

“We kept battling and we were one swing away from winning the game,” said Hoppers manager Todd Pratt. “I was proud of the guys. They hustled to get those infield hits.”

It was Greensboro’s first loss after opening the season with three straight wins over Hickory.

The game began ominously for the Hoppers when Augusta’s Malique Ziegler hit the first pitch from Taylor Braley for a home run. It was the GreenJackets’ first homer of the season.

Three batters later, they had their second homer when Ryan Kirby belted a two-run shot to boost the lead to 3–0.

“Braley throws a two-seam fastball that was flat tonight,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice.

Two Hoppers errors contributed to Augusta adding a pair of unearned runs in the third inning, and Reilly Hovis was tagged for a pair of runs in the seventh.

All that added up to a 7–1 lead and it looked as if Augusta would cruise from there, but the Hoppers made the Jackets sweat in the ninth on a night when the temperature fell to 47 by game’s end.

The game had its strange moments. With Augusta’s Shane Matheny at the plate in the seventh inning, plate umpire Kelvis Velez Caminero gave the punchout call for strike three?—?except it was only the second strike. Once that was corrected, Matheny followed with an RBI single.

In the eighth, as Augusta pitcher Peter Lannoo began his windup, he simply dropped the ball. By rule, that’s a balk and it moved Greensboro’s Micah Brown to second base. Lannoo recovered by striking out the next two batters.

The teams combined for 23 strikeouts, 13 by Hoppers pitching. The two left-handers on the roster, Nelson Bautista and Manny Rodriguez, were the bright spots on the mound, combining for seven strikeouts in four shutout innings.

NOTES: Garvis Lara, Eric Gutierrez and B.J. Lopez each had two hits for the Hoppers … The series continues Tuesday night with right-hander Edward Cabrera, who will be just three days away from his 20th birthday, starting for the Hoppers.