Never underestimate the power of a good round of batting practice.
That lesson proved true Monday night when the Augusta GreenJackets beat the West Virginia Power 9-3 at Lake Olmstead Stadium in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
“That’s what we try to preach around here - you play the way you practice,” GreenJackets manager Andy Skeels said. “It’s a long hard season and it’s been warm out so it’s easy to just kind of mentally check out, but today’s batting practice and infield was alot crisper. I felt like everybody was back in the groove.”
The proper practice turned into productive play early in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
West Virginia, statistically the top hitting team in the SAL, could only watch as the GreenJackets pummelled starter R.J. Seidel.
Augusta batted around in the bottom of the first and forced Seidel out of the game before he could retire a batter in the second. The 6-foot-5 right-hander faced 13 batters and gave up nine runs on seven hits and three walks.
“The boys came out ready to play, and ready to swing the bat,” Skeels said. “I think there was a challenge there with everybody talking about how they were the best hitting team in the league.”
Juan Ciriaco highlighted a six-run first inning with a three-run homer. The GreenJackets put another three runs across the plate in the second with a run-scoring single from Angel Villalona and RBI sacrifices from Garrett Baker and James Simmons.
Ciriaco finished with a 3-for-5 night at the plate, while Baker and Nick Noonan each went 2-for-3.
The end result was a GreenJackets team brimming with confidence and only two wins away from its first SAL Championship since 1999.
“I’d put our pitching against any hitting in the league, and our hitting against any pitching in the league,” Noonan said. “Everything’s coming together. It’s all clicking.”
GreenJackets starter Craig Clark got the win after allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits over six innings pitched. He struck out eight batters to pick up his first postseason victory.
The series will continue tonight with the GreenJackets leading the series 1-0 and ace Madison Bumgarner on top of the hill.
“We still have our work cut out for us,” Skeels said. “But anytime we’re sending Bum to the mound I like our chances.”
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.