With the help of a fortunate deflection, the Hickory Crawdads moved closer to a playoff spot Thursday night with a 3-2 win over the Columbia (South Carolina) Fireflies in 10 innings.
The crowd of 1,792 at L.P. Frans Stadium saw the Crawdads earn their second extra-inning, walk-off victory of the three-game series. Hickory defeated Columbia 9-8 in 11 innings on Tuesday before the Fireflies edged the Crawdads 6-5 on Wednesday to set up Thursday’s rubber game.
The walk-off victory was the 11th of the season, which is tied for the most by the club since records were kept in 2002. Four of the wins have come against Columbia.
More importantly, the Crawdads (76-48 overall) reduced their magic number to eliminate Greensboro (74-53) for a playoff spot to eight — any combination of Hickory wins and Greensboro losses — as they lead in the wild-card standings by 3 1/2 games with 11 to play. Hickory has a chance to shrink the number drastically this weekend as it hosts the Grasshoppers for three games beginning tonight.
The Crawdads (35-23 second half) still have a chance to claim the Northern Division second-half title. Hickory moved within two games of Delmarva (Maryland) after the Shorebirds (37-21 second half) lost 11-3 at home to Greensboro. Delmarva is hosting Kannapolis this weekend.
Columbia (50-75, 26-33 second half) took a 1-0 lead in the first on Jose Medina’s RBI single. Miguel Aparicio’s double scored Ryan Anderson to get Hickory even in the second, but the Fireflies reopened the scoring in the fifth when Phil Capra scored on Ronny Mauricio’s groundout. Again, Hickory countered an inning later as Josh Jung scored on Ryan Anderson’s grounder to second.
The Fireflies had an extraordinary amount of opportunities at the plate to blow the game open. Led by Gerson Molina’s three hits, Columbia posted nine on Thursday and had a total of 15 baserunners for the game.
However, the Fireflies managed just two hits in 17 tries with runners in scoring position and stranded 14. Columbus left the bases loaded three times and had runners in scoring position in eight of the 10 innings.
The most agonizing bounce of the game for the Fireflies came off the foot of base umpire Jennifer Pawol. By rule in Minor League Baseball in extra innings, the 10th started with Guillermo Granadillo at second. Shervyen Newton reached when Jonathan Ornelas mishandled a ball up the middle, with Granadillo moving to third. Brian Sharp then hit a sharp grounder up the middle that appeared a cinch to score Granadillo from third. However, the ball hit Pawol, who was stationed near second, on the foot to stop play immediately. Sharp was awarded a single, but Granadillo was returned to third, setting up a bases-loaded situation.
Crawdads reliever Nick Snyder (4-3) struck out Capra and Chandler Avant and induced Molina to hit into a force play to end the threat.
Hickory, which had just four hits for the game, started the bottom half of the inning with Matt Whatley at second. After Jonathan Ornelas sacrificed Whatley to third, Jax Biggers placed a bunt up the first-base line, which went far enough to allow Whatley to scramble home with the winning run just ahead of Sharp’s throw from first.
Jose Moreno (3-5) took the loss in relief for Columbia.