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Suns put up best defense for Willems

April 30, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

Hagerstown Suns manager Darnell Coles hopes to field the best defensive team in the South Atlantic League this season.

He just might have had it Tuesday night against the West Virginia Power.

The Suns peppered in a few web gems while playing error-free defense to back a strong outing from 19-year-old starter Colton Willems in a 7-1 win on a chilly night at Municipal Stadium.

"Anytime you play consistent defense it gives you a chance to win because you're not giving five or six outs an inning," Coles said. "They get 27 outs as it is. We don't want to give them any more than that."

Jake Smolinski made a diving stop at second base to retire leadoff hitter Lee Haydel on the third pitch of the game.

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That was only the beginning.

Shortstop Dan Lyons took away hits in the second and sixth innings and Bill Rhinehart saved an error by making a tag at first base after being pulled off the bag in the eighth.

"The defense was strong," Willems said. "Everybody back there can make plays and I have confidence in all of them."

Backed by a defense that made no mistakes, Willems made only one -- he surrendered opposite field home run to Jonathan Lucroy to lead off the fourth inning.

Willems allowed only two other baserunners in six innings and struck out four. The Washington Nationals' 2006 first-round pick threw 83 pitches -- 59 for strikes -- and tied his longest outing of the season.

"I've just been trying to let the ball go and hit my spots," said Willems (2-2). "I'm trying to get my velocity up and work on my mechanics."

Hagerstown (12-12) spotted Willems the lead with two runs in the bottom of the first as Rhinehart, Aaron Suess and Michael Burgess singled and Sean Rooney reached on an error.

The Suns manufactured their third run when Smolinski doubled and rounded the bases on a pair of groundouts in the second inning. Lyons followed with a wind-aided, two-out home run to right centerfield for a 4-0 edge.

The Suns used five hits to score three insurance runs in the seventh. Lyons led off with a triple and scored on a Rhinehart groundout and Steven Souza added a two-run single to take the lead to 7-1.

The lead was plenty for Hagerstown relievers Kyle Gunderson and Edulin Abreu. Gunderson pitched two perfect innings before Abreu pitched a scoreless ninth to give the Suns their fourth straight win.

"I don't know that it helps the psyche, but now that we're back to .500 we can focus on getting to one game over, then two games over ..." Coles said.

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