Minor League Baseball: Power back in first after 5-4 win
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Winning a championship in any sport is a process that involves many variables.
It is often the case that battling through adversity is one of those variables and on Sunday the West Virginia Power did just that to secure a 5-4 win against the visiting Hickory Crawdads and moved into a tie in the race for the South Atlantic League Northern Division second-half title.
The Power took an early lead in the third inning when a Dilson Herrera single brought home Max Moroff and Walker Gourley and added another run in the fourth on a Francisco Aponte sacrifice fly that scored Raul Fortunato.
West Virginia starting pitcher Luis Heredia, a 19-year old Mexican that is considered among the top pitching prospects in the lower levels of the Pirates' minor league system, cruised through the first four innings but ran into trouble in the fifth.
David Lyon started the inning with a single before Heredia struck out Luis Marte and Nick Urbanus. Chris Garia followed that with a single before Jorge Alfaro sent a ball well beyond the left field wall at Appalachian Power Park to even the score.
Heredia was pulled from the game following Alfaro's home run and replaced with reliever Thomas Harlan, who struck out Joey Gallo to end the inning after allowing a double to Nick Williams.
"Luis Heredia battled his tail off and competed well," Power Manager Michael Ryan said. "His hard work that he's doing between starts is paying off. He deserves good outings. Those guys love playing behind him.
"His body, his makeup and attitude have been outstanding. The way he is locating his fastball at times is very good and he knows how to pitch. He's a Mexican kid who grew up pitching - he knows how to do it. He relies on his offspeed and he uses that as a weapon."
West Virginia broke the tie in the sixth inning when catcher Kawika Emsley-Pai scored on a throwing error. Herrera added another run later in the inning with a ground rule double that drove Aponte in from second base.
The Power bullpen shut down any chance of a Hickory comeback from there. Harlan pitched into the eighth inning and got the win to move to 5-3 this season. Lance Breedlove got the last out of the eighth before Jhondaniel Media closed the game in the ninth.
"We've got to be locked in and do things the right way and it's fun to watch these guys when they're going well," Ryan said.
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HEREDIA FINISHED with six strikeouts and allowed the team's only two walks. Power pitchers struck out 17 Hickory batters on Sunday. Harlan helped inflate that number by recording all nine of his outs via strikeout in the three innings he was on the mound.
"I thought (Harlan) did a good job working in his changeup," Ryan said. "He threw some pitches inside to set that up. He was exhausted toward the end and battled through it. That's all we can ask."
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THE WIN pulled the Power even with Hagerstown in the SAL Northern Division. The Suns scheduled game against Asheville was rained out on Sunday.
West Virginia can qualify for the SAL playoffs two ways - by winning the division or, if first-half champion Hagerstown also wins the second half, by having the next best overall record in the division. The Suns have not made things easy for West Virginia or Hickory, winning seven consecutive games prior to Sunday.
The Power is two and a half games ahead of Hickory for the playoff spot should Hagerstown win the division. West Virginia and Hickory have one head-to-head meeting remaining this season - today at 7:05 p.m.
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IF THE POWER are going to qualify for the SAL playoffs, the bulk of that push will have to be done away from Appalachian Power Park. After today's game against Hickory, the Power have three home games remaining and will play 11 games on the road.
That could bode well for West Virginia. The Power has 34 wins away from Charleston this season - second most in the SAL behind Hagerstown's 35 road victories.
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at email@example.com or at 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.