SALISBURY–The best season in Delmarva Shorebirds history is over. In a game that was scoreless heading into extra innings, the Hickory Crawdads scored the only run in the top of 10th inning and swept the Shorebirds on Friday night to advance to face the Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
Hickory won the best-of-three series, 2-0. Hickory defeated Delmarva, 4-3, in Game 1 on Wednesday.
In the 10th, 2019 Orioles seventh-round pick Kade Strowd walked Kole Enright, hit Matt Whatley and walked Frainyer Chavez. Jax Biggers laid down a safety squeeze that scored Enright.
In the bottom of the 10th, Johnny Rizer walked and Adley Rutschman singled, but Shayne Fontana grounded into a season-ending double play.
Both teams had opportunities in the later innings until the Crawdads broke through in the 10th.
In the top of the seventh, Hickory had runners on first and third with one out. Enright grounded to second baseman Ryne Ogren in the shift, and he fired a throw home to Rutschman, freezing Pedro Gonzalez between third base and home before Rutschman sprinted down the line to tag him. Whatley followed with a fly ball to right, which Fontana came over from centerfield to catch, almost colliding with Rizer in the process.
Chavez gave the Crawdads another chance in the eighth, drawing a leadoff walk, advancing to second on a groundout and to third on a wild pitch. Morgan McSweeney held Hickory in check, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. In the ninth, Ryan Anderson singled with two outs before Rutschman threw him out trying to steal second.
The Shorebirds’ only opportunity with runners in scoring position before the 10th came with one out in the seventh when Rizer walked and Rutschman singled to left. The opportunity ended when Hever Bueno relieved starter Abdiel Mendoza and got Jaylen Ferguson to ground into a double play.
Baserunners were rare before that because of outstanding starting pitching. After finishing the regular season with a 1.81 ERA, Gray Fenter saved his best start of the year for the postseason. The 23-year-old right-hander had at least two strikeouts in each of the first five innings and finished with 13 in 6 1/3 innings.
“I had a really good feeling tonight,” Fenter said. “Lot of energy, and it helps when you have the adrenaline running … it helps you carry through the ballgame.”
Fenter gave up one-out hits in the second and third innings but stranded both runners. After Chavez singled in the third, Fenter went on a tear, striking out seven straight. It was a strong finish to a comeback season for Fenter, who got back on track as a prospect for the first time since being drafted by the Orioles in the seventh round in 2015.
“I think he opened some eyes all year long, really,” Delmarva manager Kyle Moore said. “But I think tonight he sealed the deal of being able to pitch in a big game and make really good pitches.”
The Crawdads’ Mendoza matched Fenter. The Shorebirds didn’t get a hit until Rutschman’s single in the seventh inning, and had only one baserunner before then. Shortstop Adam Hall was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the fourth, but he was retired when Mendoza snagged a hard ground ball by Rizer to start a double play.
It was a disappointing end to a historic season for the Shorebirds, who won a team record 90 games and became the first team in the South Atlantic League to win that many since 2006.
“I just wanted to remind them that, yeah, we lost two one-run games on 10 pitches and the minor leagues can be kind of a crapshoot,” Moore said. “So that’s what I told them. I’m really proud of the guys, and I think a lot of guys in that room got a lot better, and I was really proud of them for bringing it.”
Rutschman’s perspective: Friday’s loss also meant the end of the 2019 season for Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick who was promoted to Delmarva on August 20. Rutschman went 3-for-8 in the postseason, including an RBI double in the first game, and the Shorebirds’ only two hits in the series-ending loss. It capped off a year in which he’s played for three different teams in the organization that had record-setting seasons, and he saw similarities at each level.
“You start to see a trend,” Rutschman said. “It’s hard for me to bring a bunch of people who don’t know how to win together and tell them to go win. You have to have the experience of how to win to just transfer on. You have a bunch of guys here who know how to win and be in the clutch, and that goes a long way.”
Bowie takes 2-1 lead: The Bowie Baysox beat the Harrisburg Senators, 7-5, to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Division of the Eastern League playoffs Friday night.
Anderson Feliz hit two home runs, a two-run shot in the first and a three-run homer in the second, to lead the visiting Baysox.
Zac Lowther allowed a run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings for Bowie. He struck out five and walked four.
Bowie had a 7-1 lead, but Tyler Erwin allowed four runs in the eighth before Luis Gonzalez and Cristian Alvarado closed it out.
The Baysox can advance to the Eastern League Championship Series with a win in Saturday’s Game 4. They’ll play Game 5 on Sunday, if necessary. Both games would be in Harrisburg.