Anytime you are dealing with 19 and 20-year olds, in anything, there are going to be some mental errors.
That is especially true in baseball. In the cases of West Virginia prospects Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco, however, those brief lapses can be forgiven when they otherwise perform as well as they have been for the Power this season. The duo has not only been two of West Virginia’s best players this season but two of the best in the South Atlantic League.
Friday was no different, with both playing a big role in West Virginia’s 4-3, come-from-behind win against visiting Lakewood.
Hanson walked to lead off the first inning for the Power and, wouldn’t you know it, Polanco would later double to bring him around to score.
Jump ahead to the eighth inning and the two were at it again for the Power. Polanco started West Virginia’s half of the inning by taking a walk and advanced to second when Chris Lashmet followed him with another walk. Dan Gamache then put down a bunt that Lakewood pitcher Kenny Giles fired to third. Polanco, for some reason, did not slide on the play but was able to beat the throw. Elias Diaz would then hit a fly ball deep to right field that allowed Polanco to score.
So there was Polanco’s brief lapse in judgement (not sliding), but his 2-for-3 day at the plate with an RBI and a run scored balanced his evening out to some degree. West Virginia manager Rick Sofield was not pleased with his decision to stay clean on his way in to third base but also said he understands that sometimes people just make mistakes, especially at this level.
“Everybody has those. It’s the human factor is what it is,” Sofield said. “It’s also irresponsible. It’s two things – you get hurt and you’re too important to give the umpire any other choice. When you present awkwardness you’re out. In this league and in any league. When it looks screwy they’re going to go the wrong direction. He was the tying run, when you get to third you’ve got to slide.”
Hanson came to the plate later in the inning with two outs and Lashmet on third. Giles had been throwing in the high 90’s, so when the ball came off his bat everyone in Appalachian Power Park, especially Giles, expected it to be coming with some velocity.
Hanson got jammed but was able to fight the pitch in to play and in the direction of the pitcher. Giles had ducked out of the way of what he thought was a rocket back up the middle, but the ball landed on the infield grass and kicked away from the pitchers mound. Hanson used his speed to beat the throw while Lashmet easily scored the game-winning run.
Sofield, who referred to Hanson as “Ricky Bobby” (presumably because he goes fast), said West Virginia was playing hard and making its own luck and the play that scored the winning run was an example of the team doing just that.
“Ricky Bobby runs so well that you know you have to hurry and now with a squibbed ball coming it becomes almost impossible to handle,” he said. “How many balls has he squared up this summer? People say you earn your own breaks or whatever that saying is. We play hard.”
Hanson was not without fault Friday. He reached on a single in the third inning and was promptly thrown out attempting to steal. Lakewood pitcher Hoby Milner had an eye on the speedy shortstop at first and when Hanson broke for second on Milner’s first movement he was a sitting duck and easily put out at second base.
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West Virginia wasted a scoring opportunity in the sixth inning that would have spared the team some stress late in the game. With Polanco on second base and Lashmet on first, three consecutive Power batters popped up to let Lakewood off the hook without any damage done in the inning. Sofield said on occasion the players are pressing in those situations, but that it was also nice to see the team later come back for a change.
“We’re winning games where we kick your ass. We haven’t had a lot of comeback wins,” Sofield said. “With the kind of offense that we have you would think we would but for one reason or another we haven’t. I think we feel so good about ourselves offensively that we try to do too much in RBI spots with the game on the line. Polanco has shown it to us. (Jose) Osuna – it’s been his Achilles heel. (Willy) Garcia comes up with runners on second and third and if you watch him in BP you’re afraid to stand out there he hits it so freakin’ hard. He strikes out there because it’s become psychological. But this is the Sally League, that’s why we’re here. If we were in the Eastern League this would be a different conversation or if we were in the International League this would be a different conversation. This is what this league is about – situational baseball.”
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Zack Dodson had perhaps his best start of the season Friday for West Virginia. Dodson went six complete innings with six strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs allowed. An error that kept the fifth inning going long enough for Lakewood to take a 3-2 lead kept Dodson from the win (which would eventually go to Joan Montero with Nathan Kilcrease coming in for the save).
It was the first time in Dodson’s last 10 starts that the 21-year old Texan had not allowed an earned run. Sofield said the key for Dodson on Friday was getting ahead of batters and going from there.
“(Dodson) was getting ahead,” Sofield said. “(Zack) Von Rosenberg the other night was 24 of 24 and cruised. Dodson had a great six innings because he was ahead in the count. The best pitch in baseball is strike one, bar none. Then it’s the changeup for me after that. If you get ahead in the count you’ve got a chance. There are some staunch statistics that say, ‘if you do this, this is going to happen.'”
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West Virginia moved to an even 8-8 in the SAL second half with the win and dropped Lakewood to 9-7. The two teams will play the fourth of a five-game series Saturday with Robby Rowland expected to start on the mound for the Power.
Rowland has made nine appearances so far this season for West Virginia and has been the team’s most consistent starting pitcher with a 4-2 record and a 3.12 ERA. He also owns a 2-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (24 strikeouts with 12 walks) and is looking to bounce back from a sub-par outing on July 2 at Delmarva where he allowed three earned runs on six hits with three walks issued.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Follow @TomBraggSports on Twitter for live updates from Appalachian Power Park.