On Tuesday, April 19, the Wilmington Blue Rocks welcomed the Hickory Crawdads into their home park for a six-game series in their first meeting of the season.
The night was full of back-and-forth action, but it was ugly at times for both teams due to the number of errors that occurred. The final result was a 7-5 defeat for the Blue Rocks.
Wilmington had a rough top of the first inning, as they allowed Hickory to jump out to a 3-0 lead. Starting pitcher Matt Merrill surrendered two earned runs, but his team also committed two errors in the field that gave the Crawdads an additional run.
Merrill was replaced by relief pitcher Malvin Pena by the top of the third inning.
Pena gave his team an immediate spark, as he struck out all of his first six opponents in the third and fourth frames.
“When you’re trying to pick up a starting pitcher that only went two innings, the most important thing is to go in and give us as much as you got,” Blue Rocks Pitching Coach Mark DiFelice said. “Malvin [Pena] came in and struck out the first six guys, which was great. But you also want to be smart because it is a six-game series, and you don’t want to use him too much so we can bring him back.”
While Pena only pitched two innings and a third, his time on the mound gave his team a spark on offense that helped them gain the lead. A three-run bottom of the fourth gave Wilmington a 4-3 advantage.
“We have a really good staff,” Pena said. “After I came in, they started hitting the ball really good. If we keep doing our job, I think that will help give our batters more confidence moving forward.”
Unfortunately, the Blue Rocks were unable to hold onto the lead that Pena secured. The home team took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth, but the Crawdads had a two-run answer for them in the top of the seventh.
An additional run in the top of the ninth and a game-saving pitching effort by Hickory’s closer, Marc Church, ended the game for the Crawdads.
In the late innings of the game, errors were made by both teams in the field that put extra men on base. Neither team could seem to catch a pop-fly or make a good throw until the very end of the game when Blue Rocks infielder Yasel Antuna grounded out on the last play of the game.
Although the night did not end as Wilmington had hoped, the pitching staff remains optimistic that they now have a scouting report that can help them win this series.
“We need to pitch inside,” Coach DeFelice said. “I think [Hickory] likes to take the ball the other way, so you got to get them swinging inside. First-pitch strikes are very, very important, so if we can get ahead, we can do more things all around.”
Will Wilmington be able to bounce back in game two, or will Hickory continue to take advantage of the mistakes made in the field by the Blue Rocks? Game two is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20.
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