A tough month of August for the Hickory Crawdads continued Friday night and they are now in a fight for their playoff hopes.
The Crawdads battled back from an early hole only to see it slip away late, as the Charleston (South Carolina) RiverDogs held on for a 9-8 South Atlantic League win in front of 3,569 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the loss, the Crawdads are now 2-6 this month and have seen their lead on a playoff spot dwindle to a bare minimum. Hickory (68-44 overall, 27-19 second half) has two avenues for a postseason berth. Currently in the second-half Northern Division, the Crawdads are two games behind the leader Delmarva (Maryland), which also won the first half division title. Should Delmarva (77-38, 29-17) win the second half also, the team with the second-best overall record would claim a wild-card spot. In that race, Hickory is a half-game ahead of Greensboro (69-46 overall).
Crawdads manager Matt Hagen said that the inevitable snags are going to happen during the season. However, he admits it’s a tough time to hit one with the postseason race underway with 23 games to play.
“We’d prefer it not be towards the end of the season,” said Hagen. “But we’ve been overcoming stuff all year and I’m sure we’ll overcome this.”
Charleston (60-57, 23-24) has crept within 3 1/2 games in the Southern Division and has used its play over the Northern Division contenders to do so. The victory over Hickory was the second straight of the four-game series and the fourth in a row over Hickory during the past two weeks. The two weekend series are sandwiched around a 3-1 series win over Delmarva this week.
After a 3-1 win Thursday, the RiverDogs ripped Hickory for six runs in the second. Facing 18-year-old phenom Ronny Henriquez, the RiverDogs hitters were able to catch up to the youngster’s fastball, which ranged from 95-97 mph. Eduardo Torrealba started the scoring with a two-run single before Brandon Lockridge doubled in Ryan Lidge.
After a walk loaded the bases, Jesus Linarez replaced Henriquez and surrendered an RBI single to Canaan Smith before walking in two more to cap the inning.
However, the bullpen brought the Charleston attack to a halt and allowed their teammates to get the bats going. Linarez settled down and retired 11 straight at one point. Sam Hullinger joined Linarez with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
After struggling through three innings, the Crawdads finally hit starter Yoendrys Gomez in the fourth. Frainyer Chavez and Josh Jung hit back-to-back doubles before Tyreque Reed capped the three-run inning with his 12th home run of the season to get Hickory within 6-3.
The Crawdads got two more in the sixth when reliever Ron Marinaccio misfired on a throw to first, which allowed Ryan Anderson and Miguel Aparicio to score.
Hickory finally passed the RiverDogs in the seventh. Texas Rangers first-round pick Josh Jung hit his first home run with the team to tie the game. The Crawdads’ offensive pressure continued as they went on to load the bases. Matt Whatley’s sacrifice fly scored Anderson from third to put Hickory ahead, but that was all the Crawdads could add.
That proved to be crucial, as the RiverDogs rebounded in the eighth with two unearned runs. Brandon Lockridge reached on a Jung throwing error at third. That kept the inning going and Canaan Smith made Hickory pay with a two-run blast to center, his ninth of the year.
Charleston added an insurance run in the ninth before Hickory made one last surge. Anderson capped a four-hit day with a double to left and later scored on Pedro Gonzalez’s infield single. But the Crawdads’ threat and the game ended when Matt Whatley hit into a double play.
“I told the guys after the game that we’re really good at coming back,” said Hagen. “Unfortunately, we’re having to come back a lot. If we can be better in that first third of the game, we’ll be fine.”
Tim Hardy gave up the lead in the seventh, but earned the win (2-0) when the RiverDogs rallied. Kelvin Gonzalez (5-2) surrendered the lead in the eighth for the loss.