HAGERSTOWN — The Hagerstown Suns won a numbers game on Monday.
The Suns used a pair of No. 2s to win game No. 1 in the South Atlantic League’s best-of-5 championship series.
Jake Johansen and Tony Renda — the Washington Nationals’ second-round picks in the last two amateur drafts — gave Hagerstown much of what it needed to score a 6-1 over the Savannah Sand Gnats to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Johansen fired a three-hitter over five scoreless innings and Renda drove in three runs to get the Suns out of the game.
“Jake was the story of the game,” said Suns manager Tripp Keister. “He set the tone by attacking the strike zone. He attacked hitters and had command of his fastball. He didn’t pitch in the last series, so he was excited to get to pitch tonight.”
Renda used a fielder’s choice grounder in the third and a key two-run double in the fifth to give Hagerstown a 3-0 lead to complement Johansen.
“He’s been our big leader and he goes out there and plays hard every night,” Keister said. “I can’t say enough of what he has meant to us this year. The whole team has been that way. They’ve all gone out there and played hard every night.”
The two teams play Game 2 tonight at 7:05 as Hagerstown sends Austin Voth to the mound against the Sand Gnats’ Seth Lugo. The teams will travel on Wednesday before completing the series in Savannah.
It was a typical win for the Northern Division champions as they did the little things to create runs.
And the Suns did it against a Savannah team, which relied on pitching for most of the season on the way to winning the Southern Division title. The Sand Gnats outscored Augusta 15-2 in a two-game sweep to advance to the finals.
“We had a solid night,” Keister said. “Any time you get a win in the playoffs, it’s big.”
Renda gave the Suns a 1-0 lead in the third as Hagerstown manufactured a run off Savannah starter Luis Cessa.
Pedro Severino led off with a double that went down the third-base lind after glancing off the glove of third baseman Jeff Reynolds. Hagerstown’s catcher moved to third on Stephen Perez’s grounder to short before scoring on Renda’s grounder to third after Cessa hit Isaac Ballou with a pitch.
Hagerstown protected the lead with defense in the top of the fifth after Phillip Daniels reached on a two-out infield single to the mound. Eudy Pina followed by lining a single to left, but left fielder Estarlin Martinez threw behind Phillips, who rounded second, as Renda sneaked in from behind to make a tag to end the inning and protect the one-run lead.
Renda carried the momentum of the play into the bottom of the inning with his two-run double.
Perez drew a one-out walk and took third on Ballou’s double off the fence in right field. Renda cashed in with a shot inside the third-base bag to give Hagerstown the three-run lead.
Johansen left the game after walking two and striking out two in the five-inning stint.
Savannah broke through with a run in the seventh off Suns reliever Ian Dickson.
Stefan Sabol drew a leadoff walk and took second on a wild pitch before Reynolds hit a single to right to cut the deficit to 3-1. The Suns put out the rally by turning Alberto Cordero’s slowly hit grounder to short into a double play.
The Suns capped the win with three runs in the eighth off Savannah reliever Estarlin Morel.
Wander Ramos led off with a double to right and took third by beating catcher Cordero’s throw to third on Mike McQuillan’s sacrifice bunt. Bryan Lippincott drove in the first run with a single to right and Perez lined a two-out, two-run double to the base of the wall in center to cap the rally.
The Suns brought on closer Gilberto Mendez to close out the victory, using a double play after hitting a batter to end the game.
Savannah was held to four hits and only had three runners reach at least second base.
The Suns finished with nine hits, led by Ramos and Lippincott with two each.
One (win) won’t be enough for the Suns, though.
“It was just another game that I thought we played well,” Keister said. “We got the win and that’s great. A win is important, but we have to come back out and play hard tomorrow to get win No. 2.”