SAL playoffs: Lakewood 4, Kannapolis 2
By Bret Strelow
KANNAPOLIS ó Kannapolis Intimidators second baseman Daniel Wagner greeted old friends and autographed a few wooden bats following a 4-2 home loss to the Lakewood BlueClaws on Wednesday night.
The South Atlantic League playoff opener might have been the last chance this season for local fans to watch Wagner, a South Rowan High School graduate, compete at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
The best-of-three Northern Division championship series resumes Friday night in New Jersey, and a third game would be contested at the same location Saturday.
“It would have been pretty sweet if we could have got one here,” Wagner said. “Some of the pressure would have been off. Going up there, I’m sure they draw good crowds. They’ll have home-field advantage and the odds are against us right now, but we’ve got a good team.”
A two-run top of the third inning gave Lakewood a 3-1 lead, and the score remained the same until the BlueClaws added a run in the eighth.
Luis Sierra singled off reliever Santo Hernandez to open the bottom of the ninth. Hernandez stumbled off the mound for a one-out balk while attempting to throw a 3-2 pitch to Dan Black, then balked again before starting his delivery. A ball in the dirt put runners at the corners for Wagner, who hit a high chopper to second base for an RBI groundout.
Kenny Williams just missed an extra-base hit when his long flyball to the right-field corner fell inches foul, and he struck out on the next pitch.
“Hopefully we can go up there and take care of business,” Wagner said. “We had a lot of opportunities tonight, but we just didn’t put anything together.”
Eduardo Escobar scored on Josh Phegley’s two-out double in the bottom of the first, and Lakewood posted an unearned run off starting pitcher Charlie Leesman in the second.
Travis d’Arnaud hit the go-ahead single in the third, and 19-year-old center fielder Anthony Gose scored on a wild pitch.
Leesman, who went 8-0 in the second half of the season before dropping his final decision on Aug. 31, took the loss. He allowed eight hits in five innings.
Lakewood left-hander Matthew Way, a Washington State product who was selected in the fifth round of this summer’s draft, allowed seven hits and struck out seven in seven innings.
“He was mixing it up a lot, and he didn’t show the same pitch twice,” Wagner said. “He was hitting his spots and keeping the hitters off-balanced.”
Wagner went 0-for-3 with one RBI, one walk and one strikeout. He had one error but helped turn three double plays.
His vocal cheering section moved from a suite to seats behind the home dugout before the start of the ninth inning, and Daniel Crosby was one of several South Rowan graduates to speak with Wagner afterward.
Wagner reacted with surprise when he spotted lifelong friend Brittney Callahan approaching him.
“I’ve seen one or two people that I haven’t seen in a while at about every game,” Wagner said. “It would have been a lot cooler if we had won, but it’s definitely cool to be able to play at home and have your fan base that you had in high school to come out to the games.”
NOTES: Escobar and Jon Gilmore led Kannapolis with two hits apiece. … The attendance was officially listed at 1,318. … Left-hander Joe Serafin (Kannapolis) and righty Trevor May (Lakewood) are the probable starters for Friday. … The Southern Division opener between Greenville and Asheville was postponed because of rain.