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Crawdads Pounce Early, Drop 'Birds in Opener

September 4, 2019 - South Atlantic League (SAL) - Delmarva Shorebirds News Release

HICKORY, NC - The Delmarva Shorebirds fell behind after the initial footrace and couldn't jump themselves back into it, falling to the Hickory Crawdads 4-3 in Game 1 of the Northern Division Championship Series on Wednesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Ricky Vonasco (1-0) earned the win for the Crawdads with a Quality Start, allowing two runs on seven hits over six innings with two walks and seven strikeouts. Grayson Rodriguez (0-1) got saddled with the loss for the Shorebirds, giving up four runs on four hits over six innings while walking two and fanning six. Kelvin Gonzalez nailed down the save for Hickory with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Both teams got off to fast starts at the plate in the first inning. Johnny Rizer sparked it for the Shorebirds with a one-out single, then Adley Rutschman slashed an RBI double into the left field corner, scoring Rizer all the way from first to make it 1-0. After a groundout advanced Rutschman to third, Shayne Fontana snuck a grounder past a diving second baseman and into right for a base hit, plating Rutschman to put the Shorebirds up 2-0.

The Crawdads responded in kind in their half of the first. Jax Biggers and Josh Jung pelted back-to-back one-out doubles to get Hickory on the board. After a strikeout, Pedro Gonzalez walked on a full count, and Miguel Aparicio engaged in a long battle with Rodriguez at the plate. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Aparicio lashed a double down the left field line, scoring both Jung and Gonzalez to put the Crawdads ahead 3-2.

Both pitchers settled down from there and the game fell back into a quick rhythm. Rodriguez retired seven in a row through the end of the third, then seven more in a row after a walk from the fourth through sixth.

Vanasco meanwhile worked through trouble in multiple innings. The Shorebirds got men on first and second with nobody out in the third, but Rutschman grounded into a 1-6-3 double play and Jaylen Ferguson struck out to end the rally. Fontana led off with fourth with a double but Delmarva couldn't get him around either.

In the top of the sixth, Fontana singled with one out and Jean Carlos Encarnacion took his place on a fielder's choice. Ryne Ogren then worked a two-out walk, and both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball. Vanasco dug deep on his final pitch, though, getting Seamus Curran to chase a 2-2 curveball in the dirt for a strikeout to retire the side.

Tyreque Reed gave the Crawdads some insurance in the bottom of the sixth, taking a 1-2 Rodriguez fastball deep to center for a solo homer to make it 4-2 Hickory.

Delmarva finally worked some two-out magic in the top of the eighth. Ferguson led off with a double and advanced to third on a groundout. Two batters later Ogren rolled a sharp grounder through the left side for a single, scoring Ferguson to cut the deficit to 4-3. Hickory reliever Nick Snyder wouldn't let it go any further, striking out Curran to end the frame.

Kelvin Gonzalez came in for the ninth and mowed down Toby Welk and Adam Hall on three-pitch strikeouts, then Rizer tapped out to second for the game's final out.

Fontana led the way at the plate for the Shorebirds, going 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Rizer finished 2-for-4 with a double, walk, and run scored, while Hall added a pair of singles. Rutschman finished 1-for-4 with an RBI double and a run.

Delmarva's clutch hitting woes followed them beyond the end of the regular season. Despite outhitting the Crawdads 10-4, the Shorebirds batted just 2-for-12 with men in scoring position and stranded eight on base.

The Crawdads finished the night with just four hits, all of them going for extra bases and all producing runs. Aparicio struck the big blow with his two-run double in the bottom of the first.

Nick Vespi relieved Rodriguez and put up two pefect innings for Delmarva, striking out three to keep it a one-run game heading into the ninth.

The matchup marks the third time the Shorebirds and Crawdads have met in the postseason. Delmarva swept two games against Hickory in the first round of the 1997 playoffs on the way to their first SAL title. Hickory returned the favor in 2002, sweeping a pair in the league semifinals on the way to their first pennant.

Needing a win to keep their season alive, the Shorebirds return home for Game 2 against the Crawdads on Friday night. Delmarva turns to Gray Fenter (8-2, 1.81) in a must-win game, while Hickory hands the ball to Abdiel Mendoza (2-2, 3.15). First pitch from Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is set for 7:05 p.m. with gates opening at 6:00. Friday night's home playoff game is a special Froggy 99.9 Big Beer Friday presented by First Class HVAC; fans can get 32 oz Miller Lite and Coors Light on draft for $6 each. Pregame coverage on Fox Sports 960 AM and the MiLB First Pitch app begins at 6:50 with Will DeBoer and Sam Jellinek on the call.

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