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Suns split twinbill, stay atop SAL North

August 19, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The secret ingredient for the Hagerstown Suns’ success this season isn’t really any secret.

They just play the game the right way.

Hagerstown has been a team with limited offensive gifts, but has three factors that have led to a possible championship sweep of the two halves of the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division season.

They pitch well, play good defense and are fundamentally sound.

That’s all it took for the Suns to split a doubleheader with Asheville on Monday at Municipal Stadium. In fact, they might have been two innings from a sweep.

Ian Dickson allowed five hits over five innings and Estarlin Martinez hit a two-run home run to lift Hagerstown to a 4-0 shutout win in the nightcap. It erased the mark left by two subpar innings in the opener as the Tourists notched a 4-2 victory to end the Suns’ seven-game win streak.

“We played 14 innings and only gave up runs in two of them,” said Suns manager Tripp Keister. “And in both them, it was we couldn’t get off the field. They scored all their runs with two outs.”

Keister admitted that it happens that way sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that the Suns should be content with it. And they weren’t.

Maybe that’s why the Suns (74-50, 36-21) won the Northern Division on the last day of the first half. And maybe that’s why they now hold a half-game lead over West Virginia in the second half with 13 games remaining in the season.

“I wish it was that easy, but it’s not,” Keister said. “Winning is a byproduct of doing things right. In the first game, we prolonged innings with a throwing error. We didn’t play well enough to win. In the second game, we got the lead and we played with it.”

Asheville scored all its runs in the third and fourth innings in the opener. After that, the Suns shut the Tourists down for the final 10 innings.

The Suns got back on track immediately in the first inning of the nightcap with a two-run rally off Tourists starter Ben Hughes (8-10).

Shawn Pleffner started the outburst with a two-out double over the head of right fielder Derek Jones. Martinez made it count by stroking a drive over the fence in left field for his fourth homer of the season.

The Suns added to the lead in the second in usual Hagerstown fashion — stringing hits together.

Craig Manuel led off with a single to the hole at short before taking third on Stephen Perez’s double to right. Narciso Mesa singled to left to score Manuel and took second on the throw from the outfield. Tony Renda drew a walk to load the bases to set up an RBI single to center by Pleffner to give Hagerstown a four-run lead, all it needed for the shutout.

From there, it was all Dickson (5-4), who walked one and struck out four in his start. Jake Walsh and Giberto Mendez each pitched an inning to close out the win.

The win was the reward for the way the Suns played the opener.

“I like the way we came back and made it a game in the opener,” Keister said. “That’s the one thing I always look for. It gave us momentum for the second game.”

Suns starter Nick Lee spent the first game flirting with disaster. Playing with fire burned him in the third inning.

Juan Ciriaco led off by beating out a bunt single down the first-base line. Max White rolled a double down the left-field line to put runners on second and third. Lee walked Francisco Sosa with one out to load the bases.

After striking out Jones, Lee fell behind Matt Argyropoulos before working back to a full count before surrendering a bases-loaded walk to give Asheville the 1-0 lead.

Lee continued to struggle as Asheville tacked on three runs in the fourth inning.

Jason Stolz drew a leadoff walk before Ciriaco hit a one-out single to center. Rosell Herrera hit an RBI single to center and both runners advanced on center fielder Mesa’s throwing error. Sosa cashed in with a two-run single to give the Tourists a 4-0 lead.

The Suns got on the board with two runs off Asheville starter T.J. Oakes (9-8), who had held the Suns to four hits through the first five innings.

Renda drew a leadoff walk before Pleffner blooped a fly to center that outfielder Max White’s failed attempt for a diving catch turned into an RBI triple. Pleffner scored on Wander Ramos’ grounder to short.

Oakes (9-8) went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out three. Raul Fernandez pitched the seventh for his 13th save.

Lee (5-4) lasted four innings, allowing four runs on six hits with five walks and seven strikeouts. Ronald Pena pitched the final three innings, allowing one hit.

Mesa led the Suns with three of their nine hits.

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