Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers can’t quite match the BlueClaws

Hoppers can’t quite match the BlueClaws
from Bill Hass on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

A valiant effort wasn’t quite enough for the Hoppers Monday night.

Lakewood, the South Atlantic League’s best team, pulled out a 2–1 win over Greensboro, a team in a downward spiral.

It was the 21st time the teams have played this season and the BlueClaws lead the series 12–9. Nine of the games have been decided by one run, with Lakewood holding a 5–4 advantage in those.

“We’ve played good against them all year,” said manager Todd Pratt. “They seem to bring out our best.”

Ultimately, the Hoppers didn’t have enough offense to do much damage against Lakewood’s pitchers, which lead the league in ERA at 2.73. Osiris Johnson hit his second homer, but the other four hits were singles and no other runner even reached second base.

Greensboro’s pitching wasn’t that efficient, but it battled all night, stranding 14 Lakewood runners to stay in the game. Starter Ethan Clark pitched five shutout innings before giving up a run in the sixth. Jeremy Ovalle escaped one bases-loaded situation in the seventh but couldn’t do it again in the eighth, when a sacrifice fly scored the BlueClaws’ other run and decided the game.

Clark, in his sixth appearance for the Hoppers, had his best outing. He allowed four hits, struck out eight and managed to pitch around four walks, none of which scored.

“I’ve been working on my mechanics for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Tonight I had all my pitches working and was able to keep them off-balance and off the plate. I pounded the zone pretty well.”

Clark explained that he was throwing too much over the top, so pitching coach Mark DiFelice helped him lower his arm slot and make his delivery more repeatable.

“The numbers don’t show it, but my mechanics are where I want them to be, physically and mentally,” Clark said.

Lakewood’s Jake Scheiner drilled a triple off the wall to lead off the sixth inning against Clark and scored on Rodolfo Duran’s infield hit. Left fielder Thomas Jones just missed a leaping catch on the triple.

“I should have had it,” Jones said. “The ball got to the wall quicker than I thought it would. It hit about an inch from where my glove should have been. What I should have done was get to the wall and turn my back against it so I could make the catch.”

The Hoppers tied it in the seventh on an opposite-field homer by Johnson, their 17-year-old shortstop.

“He showed some pop hitting it the other way,” Pratt said. “He’s been working with (hitting coach) Frank Moore and that was a good outcome. He also made a good play from the hole defensively. Those show the possibilities in his future.”

A down side to the game was an injury suffered by catcher Will Banfield. After he was forced out at second base on a double play in the second inning, he couldn’t walk off the field. Pratt was one of the ones who helped him off and said it wasn’t anything that happened on the slide.

“He fouled a ball off his foot when he was at bat,” Pratt said. “He tried to tough it out and keep playing, but it broke his toe and he’ll miss the rest of the season.”

The series continues Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Edward Cabrera drawing the start for the Hoppers.

NOTES: The BlueClaws, who won the Northern Division with a 41–28 record, are 41–21 in the second half and winning it, too … They’re 82–49 overall … The Hoppers dropped their seventh straight game overall and 11th in a row at home.