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Grasshoppers tighten race, beat Suns 13-6

June 08, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Three days ago, the Hagerstown Suns were in control of the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.

Now, three days later, they have to switch to Plan B.

Mark Canha had three hits and drove in seven runs as Greensboro finished deflating the Suns’ first-place cushion on Tuesday in a 13-6 rout to turn the race for the first-half title into a sprint to the finish.

“We are still ahead,” said Suns manager Brian Daubach. “We control our own fate.”

The Suns owned a 1 1/2-game lead heading into the three-game set with the Grasshoppers. Greensboro recalibrated the chase by winning the last two games to knock a full game off the lead.

Greensboro scored at least two runs off of each of the Suns’ five pitchers to stack up a lead in the deliberately played game. Hagerstown, trailing 6-1 after 5 1/2 innings, got back into the game with a three-run rally in the sixth, but couldn’t sustain the momentum.

“We played hard and had a chance to come back and win,” Daubach said. “We have a day off now that is much needed and we have to get ready for the last 11 games of the half.”

Canha more than did his part. Greensboro’s cleanup hitter had  a run-scoring grounder in the first, a two-run home run in the fifth, a two-run double in the eighth and a two-run singles in the ninth. Christian Yelich, who hit third, added three hits and three RBIs to the totals.

The Grasshoppers had 17 hits and were helped by four Suns errors, which led to seven unearned runs.

The Suns played while contending with an elephant in the stadium.

Hagerstown was mired in controversy caused by a nationally broadcast video of outfielder Bryce Harper blowing a kiss at Greensboro pitcher Zach Neal after hitting a sixth-inning home run in Monday’s 3-2 loss. The gamesmanship became the backdrop in the crucial series.

National media members and bloggers held an open forum of opinions discussing the actions and the maturity level of the Washington Nationals top prospect, which put the rubber game of the series in a different light.

“This was similar to the series we played in Greensboro,” Daubach said. “Sometimes the emotions get high. It was a case of two teams getting after something. It was something everyone — Bryce, as well as their pitcher — could learn from. Now it’s time to move forward.”

Greensboro wasted no time establishing the tone of the game as it tagged Taylor Jordan (6-2), one of the Suns most consistent pitchers, for two runs in the first inning.

Noah Perio and Brian McConkey started with singles to center before Yelich’s RBI double to center. McConkey scored on Canha’s grounder to short.

The Suns got a run back in the third inning as Greensboro starter Kyle Winters (6-3) hit Blake Kelso with a pitch to lead off the inning. Adrian Sanchez followed with a double down the third-base line to move Kelso to third.

Harper caught the Grasshoppers napping and rolled a bunt down the first-base line for an RBI single to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The Grasshoppers extended the lead as Paul Applebee relieved Jordan in the fifth, taking a 4-1 lead on Canha’s homer to right center, his ninth of the season.

Winters continued to hold the Suns in check as the Grasshoppers added two runs in the sixth off Hagerstown reliever Matt Swynenberg to take a 6-1 lead. Daniel Black drew a one-out walk and took second on a single by Perio. Yelich hit a two-out RBI single to right and then helped produce a run when he was picked off first, but Swynenberg’s throw to second went into center field.

The Suns found some life in the sixth to knock Winters out of the game. David Freitas drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Randolph Oduber’s single before both runners advanced on a passed ball.

Jason Martinson took advantage of the situation with a two-RBI double to center. Martinson scored on Cole Leonida’s single to center to cut the deficit to two.

Greensboro came back and scored two unearned runs off Chris Manno in the eighth, capped by Canha’s two-run double. The Grasshoppers piled on with a five-run ninth — four unearned — against Sam Brown. Yelich had an RBI single before Canha’s two-run hit.

The Suns scored a run in the ninth off reliever Chris Squire as pinch hitter Wade Moore singled and eventually scored on Freitas’ RBI hit.

The Suns close the half with three games at Delmarva and four at Lakewood before finishing up with four with the Shorebirds, ending June 19.

“We’re still ahead and we have been a pretty good road team,” Daubach said. “I’m sure the guys are disappointed. We need to get out and get a couple quality starts and get the bats going and we’ll be fine.”

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