The Lakewood BlueClaws led wire-to-wire, but had to sweat out a treacherous ninth inning to claim a 3-1 victory over the Hickory Crawdads on Thursday night in front of 1,575 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Hickory (14-6) is now 2-2 during the current seven-game homestand, which opened with three against Augusta (Ga.) Monday through Wednesday. More importantly, the Crawdads fell another game behind Delmarva (Md.) in the early-season Northern Division standings in the South Atlantic League. The Shorebirds (16-2) now lead second-place Hickory by three games after defeating Augusta on Thursday.
The BlueClaws (7-14) have won three of four on their current road trip after a stretch during which they lost 10 of 11 games. Lakewood and Hickory return to the Frans on Friday to resume the four-game series with a first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
As it turned out, the BlueClaws got all the runs they needed just four batters into the game. Facing 18-year-old phenom Ronny Henriquez, Lakewood took a 1-0 lead after two pitches. Luis Garcia turned around a 96 mile-per-hour offering and sent it over the fence in right for his first homer of the season. Alec Bohm (3-for-4) followed that four pitches later with a double off the wall in left center and scored one out later on Matt Kroon’s single to right to make it 2-0.
Henriquez, whose promotion to Hickory a week ago marked a two-level jump after one season in the Dominican Summer League, followed up the first with two scoreless innings. Standing at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, the native of the Dominican Republic fired fastballs that topped out at 98 to go with a slider. Along with the two runs, Henriquez allowed five hits, one walk and struck out four before leaving after 64 pitches.
“He’s just getting his feet wet at this level,” Crawdads manager Matt Hagen said. “We’re really proud of him. For him to come back and put up two zeros after giving up two in the first, a lot of kids would fold there, but he kept his composure and was able to get out of a jam in the second inning.”
Sam Huff cut the Crawdads’ deficit to 2-1 in the second with a drive to right for his SAL-leading ninth home run of the season. It was the third game in a row the 21-year-old has homered and it also increased the team total to 27 for the season, which also leads the league. The Phoenix native also leads the SAL in slugging percentage (.803) and OPS (on-base plus slugging) at 1.156.
“I think he’s just taking the next step in the process,” Hagen said about Huff’s development in his second season with the team. “He’s swinging at better pitches and making the pitchers come into the zone to him. He’s not chasing and obviously, his confidence is real high right now.”
That was nearly all the offense Hickory could muster, however, as the Crawdads put together just three hits on the night. Colton Eastman (1-2) pitched the first five innings for the BlueClaws and allowed two hits – Huff added a single in the fourth – walked one and struck out seven to earn his first pro win. Ethan Landow followed up with 3.1 innings and also struck out seven.
Lakewood added a run in the sixth when Jonathan Guzman legged out a potential inning-ending double play that allowed Yerwin Trejo to score from third.
The Crawdads rallied briefly in the ninth and eventually put the go-ahead run aboard with one out. Jonathan Ornelas walked and Curtis Terry placed a bloop hit just out of the reach of two defenders in shallow left for a double. Oscar Marcelino replaced Landow and intentionally walked Huff to load the bases. Marcelino then got Pedro Gonzalez to hit into a double play to end the game and earn his first save of the year.
While the Crawdads lead the league in home runs, the inability for the team to score aside from the longball is evident. Hickory has hit 21 home runs over the last 13 games, but has scored just 45 runs total. Twenty-seven of those runs have scored directly from home runs. As a team, the Crawdads are hitting .222, which is 11th in the SAL.
“I think it’s slow starts,” Hagen said. “A lot of guys killed the ball in spring training and they killed the ball on the first road trip. We’ve hit a little hiccup here the last week or two. I think a lot of guys are trying to mess with their approach a little too much right now. We’re trying to get them back to doing the simple things well.”