A few days ago, the four-game series between the Rome Braves and Augusta GreenJackets, which starts today at Lake Olmstead Stadium, looked like it would decide the first-half championship.
The Kannapolis Intimidators - the worst team in the South Atlantic League - beat Augusta for the second day in a row Sunday, 5-4, likely ending the GreenJackets' push to catch first-place Rome in the Southern Division.
The Braves, in town today through Thursday, won Sunday at Columbus to take a five-game lead on Augusta with a week left in the first half.
"I think right now, there's a dark cloud over this team," left fielder Ben Copeland said. "People want to win, but we're not competing like we should at all.
"Maybe it was because they were the last-place team, but there was no energy, no intensity," he added. "It just was completely not there."
The Intimidators' win Sunday, a day after they routed Augusta 11-2, gave them their first road series win of the year and handed the GreenJackets their first home series loss.
"It's very disappointing, the last two games, especially with what we're playing for," manager Roberto Kelly said. "I guess they don't realize what we're playing for. The energy level should be there when you're playing for the first-half championship and getting close, but they're out there playing like it's just another game."
The second-worst hitting team in the league, Kannapolis (16-46) totaled 28 hits in its two wins and took only its second series win of the year.
The GreenJackets, meanwhile, looked uninspired for the second day in a row and failed to take advantage of numerous chances.
"We're going to talk about that," Kelly said. "I don't think I should have to get them excited for this. They know exactly what we're playing for.
"I'm definitely going to let them know how I feel about it."
Augusta (35-28) cut a 5-1 deficit to one run in the seventh and threatened in the ninth.
Antoan Richardson reached on an error with two outs and moved to third on a steal and a throwing error. But Kannapolis closer Oneli Perez struck out Copeland to end the game.
Clayton Richard, Kannapolis' best starter, held Augusta in check through 5w innings, giving up three runs - two earned - and six hits to earn the win.
Augusta starter Joe Martinez was hit hard, allowing 11 hits and five runs with five strikeouts in 5w innings to take the loss and fall to 5-3 on the year.
Kannapolis' Salvador Sanchez and Paulo Orlando each slammed solo home runs to break a 1-1 fourth-inning tie.
Mike Mooney broke an 0-for-9 slump with an RBI double to left in the bottom of the sixth. Jose Yens' single to center scored Mooney to cut the lead to 5-3.
Augusta loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh, but only scored one run off Israel Chirino. Anthony Contreras' fielder's choice scored Hector Borg, and Velez grounded into a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
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