CHARLESTON, S.C. – Outfielder Canaan Smith led an early barrage, but the RiverDogs’ inability to add onto an early lead was their downfall Wednesday night, as Charleston fell 8-6 to the Hickory Crawdads in the first game of the three-game set with 3,722 in attendance at Joe Riley Park.
Three eighth-inning runs did the trick for the Crawdads (66-38, 25-13), tagging Charlie Ruegger (2-2, 5.79) in his third inning of work after relieving starter Luis Medina. Ruegger cleaned up a mess left by Charleston’s (53-56, 16-23) starter in the top of the sixth, entering with two on and one out. The righty induced a groundout from Miguel Aparicio and fanned Pedro Gonzalez to escape the jam, and then threw a perfect seventh before running into trouble in the eighth frame.
Two walks to the Rangers’ top prospect Josh Jung and Tyreque Reed leading off the inning were his undoing, as catcher Melvin Novoa later plated Jung with a single to right field to bring Hickory to within a run. Matt Whatley came in to pinch run for Novoa, and scored along with Reed on a single by Pedro Gonzalez to give the ‘Dads a 7-6 lead. Hickory added one more insurance tally on a groundout in the ninth to put a bowtie on the opener.
Back on May 12 of this season, Canaan Smith hit for the cycle as part of a 13-5 victory over the Crawdads at LP Frans Stadium in Hickory, North Carolina. The outfielder almost accomplished the same feat Wednesday night, as he led the charge for Charleston’s six runs with three hits through the first four innings. Smith crushed the first pitch he saw over the wall in right field to put the Dogs on top 1-0 in the first. It was his first long ball in a scorching hot month of July since his two-homer game on June 13 at The Joe.
In the third, he surprised the Hickory defense with a bunt single, and he caught a break in the fourth when center fielder Miguel Aparicio lost his fly ball in the sky. Smith never stopped running, and ended up on third base with his third triple of the season. He received two more chances for the two-bagger, but went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
The three-hit night put a cap on a phenomenal month of July at the plate for Smith, as it was his best overall month in hitting and OPS. He led the league in batting average (.393) and on-base percentage (.509), while finishing second in OPS (1.045) during his best monthly stretch of the year to heighten his MVP candidacy.
Overall, Smith finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. The other four RiverDogs runs came by way of a pair of groundouts by Ryan Lidge and Eduardo Torrealba in the second, and a sacrifice fly by Mickey Gasper and a single by Oliver Dunn in the third. Hickory’s relief corps stymied the Charleston lineup from then on, as Jesus Linarez and Hever Bueno (2-0, 1.55) combined for six innings of one-run ball, striking out seven Dogs.
Medina continued the best stretch of his season with 5 1/3 solid innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks. All four Hickory runs on his ledger came in a rough third inning, including a long two-run blast by Tyreque Reed off the batter’s eye in center field, but he bounced back nicely setting down six of the final nine he faced. The home run by Reed was his 10th since the All-Star Break, equaling the same amount of long balls hit by the RiverDogs as a team in that stretch, ranking last in the league.
Medina finished his night striking out three of the final five hitters he faced, giving him a career high-tying 10 strikeouts.
The RiverDogs conclude the month of July with an 11-17 record, marking the worst month of the season for Charleston, and now sit a season-high seven games back.
Wednesday night was all about the seniors who came out to the park, as the RiverDogs honored the elderly by allowing them to eat free of charge before 7 p.m. They also took a stroll around the bases to cap off their evening at the Joe. Finally, the promotions team held a small-scale gymnastics meet on the field before the game, as many girls showcased their talents on a trampoline and mat along the third base line.