By BOB PARASILITI
11:15 PM EDT, September 5, 2012
The Hagerstown Suns hosted a playoff game devoid of any clutch hitting.
Fortunately for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, they didn’t need any.
The Grasshoppers plated three runs in assembly line fashion with the help of the Suns on Wednesday to score a 3-1 victory in the opening game of the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division playoffs before 1,356 fans at Municipal Stadium.
The Grasshoppers, the defending SAL champions, grabbed the upper hand in the best-of-3 series, winning their only road game of the set. Greensboro will try to close out the Suns, the second-half champions who are making their first playoff appearance since 2005, when it hosts Game 2 on Friday at 7 p.m.
Greensboro collected 10 hits — all singles — to support a strong performance by starting pitcher Andrew Heaney (1-0). Heaney, the Florida Marlins’ top pick in the 2012 draft, handcuffed the Suns for seven scoreless innings, allowing four singles, while walking one and striking out eight.
Good fortune followed Greensboro as the Grasshoppers put the bat on the ball and forced the Suns to make plays. It worked just enough.
Greensboro used a base-running blunder that came up golden in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead against Hagerstown starter Blake Schwartz.
Austin Barnes started the rally with a one-out single to left, but was erased on Brent Keys’ grounder to short.
Josh Adams grounded a single up the middle that moved Barnes to third. Shortstop Bryce Ortega cut off center fielder Billy Burns’ throw to third and caught Adams rounding first. The Suns put Adams in a rundown, which allowed Keys to try for home. Second baseman Cutter Dykstra fired home to the plate, but Keys beat Adrian Nieto’s tag.
Schwartz (0-1) lasted five innings, allowing the one run on seven hits without a walk or a strikeout.
The Grasshoppers extended their lead with a pair of runs in the sixth off reliever Christian Meza, again using creative methods.
Keys led off with a drag bunt single to second base, which looked to have become harmless after Adams and Matt Smith struck out. But Aaron Senne followed with a single — his third of the game — to put runners on first and second.
Ryan Reiger hit a grounder in the hole that forced Dykstra to make a diving stop. But Dykstra threw wildly to first, allowing Reiger to reach with a single and Keys to score on the throwing error.
After Austin Nola walked to load the bases, Meza uncorked a wild pitch that scored Senne and gave Greensboro a 3-0 lead.
The Suns only legitimate threat against Heaney came in the seventh when they put runners on first and third with two outs. Heaney escaped by striking out Josh Miller on his last pitch of the game.
Hagerstown got on the scoreboard in the eighth inning against reliever Kevin Cravey, who entered the game with a 10-0 record in the regular season.
Ortega drew a leadoff walk and took second on Burns’ single to center. After Cravey unleashed a wild pitch to advance Ortega to third, Dykstra hit a high-chop fielder’s choice grounder to third to score the run.
Nick Wittgren retired the Suns in order in the ninth, making sure Hagerstown didn’t produce one of its patented late-inning comeback victories.
Every Grasshopper except Smith finished with a hit. Senne led the way with three.
Ortega and Burns each had two hits for the Suns, who managed five singles in the game.
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