The temperature wasn’t the only thing heating up on Tuesday at L.P. Frans Stadium. So did the Hickory Crawdads’ pitching and hitting.
The Crawdads got solo home runs from Christian Villanueva, Tomas Telis and Andrew Clark, while Hickory pitching combined for a two-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory against Delmarva.
“We have so many things to work on, and we are fighting,” said Crawdads Manager Bill Richardson. “We don’t have a position player who has played a full season. This is uncharted territory for them. I’m pretty pleased. There are a lot of things we can do better, but we have to gear it up a little bit.”
Leading off the scoring in the game was Villanueva, who connected on his 13th home run of the season to give the Crawdads a 1-0 lead in the bottom of second inning.
“I was sitting on a fast ball,” Villanueva said. “When I got it, I put a good swing on it and was able to hit it out.”
The Hickory lead was extended in the bottom of the fourth. Telis and Clark — the first two Crawdads batters in the order for the inning — homered on back-to-back at-bats.
While the ‘Dads were hitting home runs, Hickory starting pitcher Nick Tepesch (6-3, 3.27 ERA) shut down the Delmarva offense. Tepesch allowed one hit through four innings and didn’t allow a runner into scoring position in the fifth inning, when Riley Hornback doubled in the gap between left and center field.
“I felt really comfortable out there today,” Tepesch said. “Our defense made a lot of plays behind me. That always helps. Defense is huge. I pitch to contact and try to get ground balls. I let them make the plays behind me.”
Richardson said Tepesch has grown a lot in his time in Hickory.
“I think Nick has been one of the big success stories for the year, so far,” Richardson said. “He was a 14th rounder. When he got here, he was throwing 90-91 mph. Now he’s throwing 93-94 mph and controlling his cutter. It is going to get interesting here in the next three weeks when we set our roster for pitching. He sent a message today to the other guys that he wants to be a starter in those games.”
Shorebirds’ pitcher David Baker gave up five hits, three walks and three runs in six innings pitched against the Crawdads. This came after Baker’s two previous outings against Asheville (July 14) and Rome (July 21) netted a combined five hits and one earned run in 14 innings on the mound.
Tepesch exited after six innings on the mound, allowing two hits, four walks and striking out four Delmarva batters.
“Every time I go out, I try to go as deep as I can,” Tepesch said. “I felt like I had one or two more innings in me. I reached my limit and came out of the game. They try to keep me around or 100 or so.”
Reliever Andrew Doyle, appearing in his third game since returning to Hickory from Myrtle Beach on July 16, ran into early trouble, walking the first two batters in the inning.
Doyle received help to get out of the inning, as Adam Gaylord popped out, Michael Rooney lined out and Michael Planeta struck out.
During the eighth inning, third basemen Villanueva made his 33rd double play of the season, setting a record for the Crawdads’ organization and improving his league-best statistic.
Jimmy Reyes and Francisco Mendez finished out the Crawdads’ relief pitching effort in the eighth and ninth inning. Despite allowing four walks, all three relief pitchers for Hickory allowed no hits. Doyle and Reyes both picked up a hold, while Mendoza was credited with the save.
“I want to thank the coaches for the effort they put in with us,” Villanueva said. “I want to thank Odubel (Herrera), too, because he is in on most of those double plays. It is an honor for me to have made that record.”
The Crawdads are off Wednesday before hitting the road for a four-game road trip against Augusta. Hickory returns home Monday for an important four-game series against Hagerstown, the No. 2 team in the Northern Division behind the Crawdads.