HAGERSTOWN — Michael Taylor finds a way to keep breathing while all around them are holding their breath.
That’s what makes the outfielder Hagerstown’s biggest threat when the game is on the line in the ninth inning.
Taylor did it again in calm, cool and collected fashion on Thursday. Taylor drove in all four of Hagerstown’s runs — including a three-run homer with one out in the ninth — to lift the Suns to a 4-2 victory over the West Virginia Power at Municipal Stadium.
“I love to come up in that situation,” said Taylor, who collected both of his hits in the final three innings. “I try to stay relaxed when I come up and try to keep breathing.”
With one swing, Taylor knocked the wind out of the Power.
The Suns got to West Virginia closer Profino Lopez to pull out the win. Sean Nicol led off with a single off to left off the glove of third baseman Eric Avila and took third when Mills Rogers clubbed a double into the gap that center fielder Mel Rojas Jr. made a diving try for the catch but came up empty. One out later, Taylor only needed a single but lined his eighth home run into the right-field bullpen to win the game.
“I got a fastball away and I was able to extend my hands and elevate it,” Taylor said.
Hagerstown listlessly battled through 8 1/3 innings, before Taylor’s big swing.
With the win, the Suns (9-6, 49-36) stayed in a tie atop the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Hagerstown, which entered Thursday in a four-way tie for first, but ended the night knotted with Lakewood for the lead by a half-game over Hickory.
The game was dominated early by starting pitchers A.J. Cole and West Virginia’s Zac Fuesser, who both threw six scoreless innings to make every hit — and every run — precious.
The pitch count did to Suns starter Cole what West Virginia couldn’t — knock him out of the game.
Cole dominated the Power for six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out seven. He allowed one hit after Justin Howard’s leadoff double in the second. The right-hander retired 15 of the last 16 hitters he faced, including six of his strikeouts.
Rojas broke the string with a one-out single in the fourth.
Fuesser was equal to the task, holding the Suns to five hits through six innings, while striking out seven before being lifted for Victor Black. Fuesser allowed Hagerstown five singles with only two Suns reaching second base.
West Virginia took the lead quickly after Cole left the game as Rojas hit reliever Wilson Eusebio’s second pitch over fence in right for a leadoff home run. Justin Howard and Cole White followed with singles to put runners on first and third. Elias Diaz scored Howard with a grounder to first to give the Power a 2-0 lead.
Hagerstown got out of what could have been huge rally as third baseman Blake Kelso laid out to make a diving grab of Rogelio Noris’ liner before scampering over to stomp on third to double off White for an inning-ending double play.
The Suns finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh to end a string of 17 consecutive scoreless innings.
Hagerstown made it 2-1 as Black started the inning by issuing leadoff walks to Jason Martinson and Sean Nicole. After getting back into the inning with two strikeouts, Taylor doubled to left center to score Martinson.
Dean Weaver (1-1) won the game with two innings of one-hit relief.
Taylor proved why the game of baseball is played for 27 outs and nine innings.
“It is tough to come back late off a road trip and then come right out here and play again,” he said. “We kept going and the bats woke up late in the game.”