HICKORY, N.C. – The RiverDogs made it interesting near the end, but an early 7-0 lead by the Hickory Crawdads was too much to overcome in the end as Charleston fell by a 7-5 final score Monday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The RiverDogs (20-17) entered the morning matchup looking to take their fifth straight series, sending Roansy Contreras (3-2, 5.29) to the mound to lead the way after the Dogs were kept off the board in the top of the first by Yerry Rodriguez (4-1, 1.74).
Contreras struck out one in a perfect bottom half, and the Crawdads (24-12) starter worked around a two-out single by Mitchell Robinson, his first of the season and the second hit of the game for Charleston, in the top of the second to keep the game scoreless.
The wheels started to come off in the bottom of the inning, as a leadoff walk to Tanner Gardner proved costly when Jose Almonte followed with an RBI double to draw first blood. Contreras then hit Sherten Apostle, and after a sacrifice bunt by Miguel Aparicio and a groundout by second baseman Tyler Depreta-Johnson, Frainyer Chavez drove a 1-0 offering deep enough to left field to plate Apostle on a sacrifice fly, doubling Hickory’s lead.
Charleston was again unable to score in the top of the third, and Hickory, seeking revenge for the 13-5 rout Sunday afternoon, was relentless, scoring five more times in the home half of the frame.
The first five Crawdads reached base against Contreras in the bottom of the third, on back-to-back doubles, a two-run homer by Gardner, a third double and a walk. Contreras finally recorded an out by inducing a ground ball off the bat of Aparicio to second baseman Kyle Gray, who made a brilliant diving stop and flipped the ball from his knees to shortstop Wilkerman Garcia covering at second to nail Apostle on the play.
The ‘Dads weren’t done, though, as on the play Almonte advanced to third base and Aparicio reached first. Hickory then pulled off the second successful double-steal of second base and home plate of the series, as Aparicio broke for second on Contreras’ offering to Depreta-Johnson, and Almonte swiped home plate on catcher Eduardo Navas’ throw to second to put the Crawdads up 6-0.
Depreta Johnson followed up the double-steal with an RBI single to center field to extend Hickory’s lead by one more, chasing Contreras from the game in the process. The righty was able to complete just 2.1 innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and two walks. Carlos Espinal came on in relief, making his fifth appearance of the season, and got the last two outs of the inning on a strikeout and a groundout sandwiching a two-error play by third baseman Ricky Surum.
Charleston got two of those tallies back right away, on a one-out RBI double down the left field line by Mickey Gasper that scored Josh Stowers and Canaan Smith in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to 7-2.
Espinal, who hadn’t allowed an earned run his first four appearances this season, was near-untouchable in this one, allowing just two hits in 4.1 shutout innings of work, striking out two.
Fast-forward to the top of the sixth inning, and again it was Mickey Gasper who put a jolt into the sleepy RiverDogs offense, sending a 2-2 Nick Snyder offering over the left field wall for his third home run of the season to get Charleston back within four. Robinson and Surum both reached following the solo shot, on a single and double, respectively, and Navas drew a walk to bring Brandon Lockridge to the plate with the bases loaded.
Lockridge lined a two-run single to center field to bring home Robinson and Surum, cutting the Hickory lead to 7-5. Gray was unable to keep the rally going, though, as he grounded out to Depreta-Johnson to get the Crawdads off the field.
Masterful work from Espinal and Dalton Higgins kept Hickory off the board for the rest of the game following the five-run third, but the Hickory pitching staff clamped down and didn’t allow Charleston to get any closer than two, sending the Dogs back to South Carolina on a sour note.