CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite a mid-season surge that got the West Virginia Power back into the South Atlantic League Northern Division race, the team fell just short of a first-half division title, due in large part to a horrid start that had the team sitting at 1-6 and 10-15 at different points in April.
Much of the talk in the dugout as the second half of the season began Thursday night was avoiding such a sluggish beginning this time around.
But if West Virginia is to get out of the gates quicker than it did in the first half, it certainly can't afford to play like it did on Thursday.
The Power committed four errors, three of which allowed critical runs to cross the plate, as Lakewood earned a 9-4 win in the opener of a four-game set at Appalachian Power Park. A crowd of 2,263 attended.
West Virginia overcame a shaky start from Clay Holmes and battled back to tie the BlueClaws after four innings after trailing by two twice in the early going.
But Lakewood scored a run in the fifth on an errant pickoff attempt to first base and in the sixth and seventh innings on throwing errors on shortstop Max Moroff.
Even though Thursday was certainly a setback, Power manager Mike Ryan believes his team learned valuable lessons during the first half and is better equipped to succeed early in the second half. 7
"They were playing well at the end of the first half and hopefully they can ride that momentum into the start of the second half," Ryan said. "They know how close they came and they know what they have to do differently in order to [not] get off to a slow start. They're a lot more comfortable with close games and have become better players because of their work ethic so that should take care of itself."
Holmes never settled into a groove, giving up four earned runs in 31/3 innings, including giving up hits to the first three batters of the game, allowing Lakewood to jump out to a 2-0 advantage.
In the fourth, he walked the bases loaded and hit two consecutive batters to end his night early. In all he walked three, hit two and gave up five hits while striking out just one.
While Holmes wasn't great, his offense battled, chasing BlueClaws starter Kevin Walter after just 32/3 innings as the teams exited the fourth inning in a 4-4 tie. Walter gave up four earned runs on seven hits and three walks.
To be fair, West Virginia is breaking in three new players and dealing with the loss of first-half stalwarts Stetson Allie, Orlando Castro and Joely Rodriguez, who were promoted to Bradenton.
Two of the new players saw action Thursday.
Reliever Clario Perez (0-1) threw 22/3 innings, yielding a pair of unearned runs on two hits and a walk in picking up the loss, while Jordan Steranka went 0 for 5 as the starting designated hitter.
While the departures of Allie, Castro and Rodriguez will hurt the Power, at least for a while, Ryan said their climb up the organizational ladder is an example of success here in Charleston.
"That's what it's about - to try to get guys in and out of here as quick as possible," Ryan said. "Anytime you can send guys up, it shows you how well they're becoming as far as career and the work ethic they put in and results they're getting. You can't sit there and selfishly think you wish a guy would be here all year to help your team win. We're all about developing players into major-league players and those three guys are well on their way."
Roman Quinn, Brian Pointer, Art Charles and Willie Carmona each had two-hit efforts for the BlueClaws. Pointer and Carmona each doubled while Charles added two. Carmona and Chace Nutata each drove in two runs.
Power first baseman Walker Gourley had three hits to lead West Virginia, while Barrett Barnes and Jonathan Schwind each had two.
Jeb Stefan (2-4) picked up the win in relief for Lakewood after 21/3 scoreless innings.
The teams will continue the four-game set at 7:05 tonight. Righty John Kuchno (3-3, 4.47 ERA) will get the ball for the Power while Lakewood will counter with right-hander Jonathan Musser (1-2, 4.70 ERA).
POWER POINTS: Outfielder Josh Bell was a late scratch from the lineup on Thursday for what was said to be a rest-related issue. Bell was in Lakewood, N.J., for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and didn't return until around 9 p.m. Wednesday. ... Power fans were treated to a double dose of free fireworks on Thursday. Past the right-field foul pole in the eighth and ninth innings, fireworks from the West Virginia sesquicentennial celebration at the Capitol Building could be seen and heard, and they were let off at the ballpark at the conclusion of the game.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.