The ninth inning provided a gut punch that would sink most teams. However, the Hickory Crawdads continue to find ways to win in 2019 and Tuesday night’s game wrote another chapter in a season that has the chance to be a magical one.
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After falling behind twice late, the Crawdads fought back and finally edged the Kannapolis Intimidators 5-4 in 10 innings in front of 1,673 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win, Hickory (58-33 overall) improved to 17-8 in the second half and creeped within a half-game of Delmarva (Maryland) in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. The Shorebirds dropped a 7-4 game to home to Lakewood (New Jersey), also on Tuesday.
The victory was also the third in a row for the Crawdads, the second over Kannapolis (41-53, 13-13) during a three-game series that concludes Wednesday night. However, the victory came after Hickory saw a lead suddenly evaporate in the ninth.
Matt Whatley’s RBI single in the fifth and Ryan Anderson’s solo homer in the seventh sent Hickory to a 2-0 lead, which it carried into the ninth. After Kelvin Gonzalez struck out the first hitter, Ian Dawkins ripped a liner to right for a single. Gonzalez struck out Johan Cruz, but with two outs back-to-back wild pitches moved Dawkins to third. Andrew Vaughn worked a walk to keep the Intimidators alive and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Alex Destino provided the clutch blast when he sent an 0-1 slider off the batter’s eye in center to put the Intimidators up 3-2.
Looking to close out the game, reliever J.B. Olson retired the first two hitters quickly before facing Anderson. Falling behind 0-2, the Crawdads right fielder worked the count even and then sent a high fly that just cleared the fence in left to tie the game.
Kannapolis retook the lead in the 10th after Hickory thought it had ended the inning. With two outs and Romy Gonzalez at second, Amado Nunez took an 0-2 slider from Grant Anderson which the Crawdads bench thought was a third strike. Nunez lined the next pitch to left to bring in Gonzalez.
However, Hickory responded quickly in its half of the 10th when Whatley doubled in Jax Biggers to tie game. A pair of walks loaded the bases before Pedro Gonzalez hit Olson’s first pitch to left for the walk-off single.
“The feeling was what you expect it to be when you give up a three-run homer with a two-run lead going into the ninth,” said Crawdads manager Matt Hagen. “The wind came out of the sails for a minute. They got back into the dugout and, to the credit of the players, they flipped a switch and said, ‘Hey, let’s go find a way.’”
The game also featured the debut of Josh Jung with Hickory. Jung was selected in the first round by the Texas Rangers last month and signed with the organization shortly after he saw action with Texas Tech in the College World Series. Jung went 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base.
“If he gets two hits every night, it’s going to be a great career,” joked Hagen. “I think we got to see everything he needed to showcase tonight. He got a lot of action at third base and made every play.”
But it was the Anderson, the Rangers' 31st-round pick in 2018 that found a way to keep Hickory in the game in the ninth. With the focus on Jung, the success of an otherwise unheralded player to win a game was not lost on Hagen.
“I give a lot of credit to our scouts, who do a tremendous job finding these guys,” said Hagen. “That’s the beauty of baseball. The nine-hole guy has to hit. Everybody gets their turn and tonight, it was Ryan’s turn to be big for us.”