Seventh-inning meltdown dooms Power
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As each new Charleston RiverDogs run crossed the plate in a disastrous seventh inning Wednesday afternoon for the West Virginia Power, Manager Michael Ryan's strategy became one of survival.
"We were just trying to stop the bleeding," Ryan said.
The Power needed three pitchers in the seventh to finally end Charleston's barrage, but when West Virginia finally jogged off the field, the damage was done. Through struggles both on the mound and in the field, the RiverDogs belted the Power for 11 runs in that inning to ultimately sweep their three-game series with a 12-5 win.
Five Power errors, including four in the seventh, combined with the team's pitching woes helped to create an insurmountable deficit.
"Struggling on the mound, when you don't throw the ball across the plate," Ryan said. "Defensively, you become stagnant. You're not ready for the ball to be hit your way, that's what happens."
The Power (1-6) was sitting on a comfortable 4-0 lead going into the seventh, thanks mainly to right fielder Josh Bell's two-out, three-run blast over the Appalachian Power Park fence in right-center field.
It was his first home run of the young season.
"It feels good," Bell said of that first homer. "I've been hitting balls hard, but hitting them into the wrong spots. It feels good to finally connect with one that got out of the park."
Clay Holmes started the game for West Virginia and left after five innings of two-hit, shutout ball, striking out three and walking four. David Jagoditsh retired the side in the sixth, but started to struggle in the seventh as the game started to spiral out of control.
Jagoditsh, Jason Creasy and Pat Ludwig all pitched the seventh, combining to give up eight hits and three walks, while suffering through those four errors.
Only one of those hits, a Saxon Butler two-run double, went for extra bases.
The trio combined to give up 10 hits and 12 runs, eight earned, over the last three innings, walking four and fanning three.
As good as the Power has looked in spurts in the first seven games, the team seems to run out of juice in the late innings. West Virginia has held early leads in five of its first seven games, only to see them disappear. The Power gave up nine runs in the final three innings in its April 5 loss to Asheville, then three runs in the final three to lose the next day, 4-1, to the Tourists.
West Virginia held 4-0 and 6-4 leads going into the seventh inning in their first two games against the RiverDogs, losing both. Then came Wednesday's debacle.
"We're playing well," Bell said. "It's just an inning here or there that we have to sharpen up. We're definitely giving teams a hard time. That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes."
After seven games, Ryan likes most of what he's seen from the Power's bats. West Virginia entered Wednesday's game tied with Savannah and Asheville for fourth in the South Atlantic League with 18 extra-base hits, then added four more against Charleston on Wednesday. Despite the numbers, Ryan feels he has a solid starting rotation.
Yet as the Power starts its first road trip - four games at Asheville followed by three games at Greenville - Ryan said the team must improve in making routine plays and doing the little things that keep innings like the seventh against the RiverDogs on Wednesday from happening. And it must push through those final three innings rather than fizzle.
"Right now we have to stress to these guys that we have to play a full nine innings," Ryan said. "You just can't stay positive for four and negative for five. It's a process we're going to have with a young team."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.