West Virginia's Walker Gourley scores a run Sunday as the throw sails over the head of Hickory catcher David Lyon.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On an off-day earlier this season, Power catcher Kawika Emsley-Pai and two teammates paid a visit to Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark for a Reds-Pirates game and picked up some additional inspiration.As Class A players with big dreams, they certainly owed it to themselves to allow their imaginations to transport them, if only for a moment, up the professional baseball ladder and into the big leagues. In other words, it was more than just another day at the ol' ballpark."It sent chills down my spine just watching them out there, just knowing that I could have the opportunity to be there,'' said Emsley-Pai, who was accompanied that day by outfielder Jonathan Schwind and pitcher Clay Holmes.For now, Emsley-Pai and the Power have set their sights on a South Atlantic League playoff spot, and they strengthened their case with a 5-4 victory over the Hickory Crawdads Sunday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park.
The Power is now 35-20 in the second half and tied with Hagerstown, which was rained out Sunday, for the Northern Division lead. More important, the Power leads the third-place Crawdads by 41/2 games with 15 to play.Even if the Power fails to win the division title, it would still qualify for the playoffs if Hagerstown wins and the Power finishes second. Hagerstown won the first-half division title and, if the Suns also finish first in the second half, the division's second-place team would earn one of the four SAL playoff spots."Anytime you're on a team, you want to win a championship,'' said Emsley-Pai, a resident of Bothell, Wash. "You always keep that in sight, but you just want to take it one game at a time and one pitch at a time. We try to play every game like it's just another game, and that way we won't get caught up in all the emotions that are involved in that, and we can go out there and play our best.''Whatever happens, it's been a special season for Power right-hander Luis Heredia of Mazatlan, Mexico, who turned 19 earlier this month."We're like a family,'' said Heredia. "Everybody helps each other, and the coaches and the staff are amazing. Last year we had a good team in State College. This year, I've been here two months, and I see how hard this team works. It's amazing.''Emsley-Pai holds similar feelings. "This is the closest team I've ever been a part of,'' he said. "This is my third season now with the Pirates, and the camaraderie we have and the brotherhood we have is something special. I enjoy coming to the field every day, knowing I get to hang out with these guys every day and get to go out there to play.''Behind the 6-foot-6, 241-pound Heredia, the Power led 3-0 through four innings Sunday. Heredia has been dominant of late, having yielded just one earned run and nine hits in his previous 15 innings, but with two outs in the fifth he threw a pitch that the Crawdads' Jorge Alfaro launched onto Lewis Street for a game-tying three-run homer.The home team responded in the sixth by scoring two unearned runs, highlighted by Francisco Aponte's sacrifice bunt, Josh Bell's infield single and Dilson Herrera's RBI double to the center-field fence. Herrera also had a two-run single in the third. Power relievers Thomas Harlan, Lance Breedlove and Jhondaniel Medina did not allow an earned run through the final 41/3 innings. Harlan struck out nine in three innings, surrendering just two hits and a hit batsman, and picked up the victory.POWER POINTS: The Power and Crawdads will close out the home stand beginning at 7:05 tonight. ... Counting tonight's game, the Power has just four regular-season home games remaining. Beginning Tuesday, the Power will play three games in Charleston, S.C., and four in Savannah. ... Entering Sunday's game, the Power averaged 2,343 fans a game - or 13 fewer than last year's final average of 2,356. ... Power right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who leads the league with 147 strikeouts, is tied for seventh place all-time in Charleston's 27-year history in the South Atlantic League. Walker Gourley entered the game ranked third in the league in hitting and had two hits to raise his average to .321.Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com.