CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Entering a three-game homestand with the Savannah Sand Gnats, West Virginia Power manager Michael Ryan stressed the need for his team to learn how to finish games. It’s a lesson that Ryan will teach again following his team’s 9-3 loss Wednesday.
A six-run sixth inning for the Sand Gnats ultimately doomed the Power in West Virginia’s first game at Appalachian Power Park since April 27. It sent West Virginia to its third straight loss and fourth loss in its last five games.
“You’ve got to play nine innings, and we didn’t,” Ryan said. “The story of this season.”
Tied at 2-2 entering the sixth, the Power (11-21) dipped into its bullpen, replacing starter Justin Topa with Jerry Mulderig. He gave up a single, a walk and threw two wild pitches before a Stefan Sabol ground out allowed L.J. Mazzilli to score. An error on a throw to first scored Jared King, then Matt Oberste doubled to score Dominic Smith and Colton Plaia singled to score Oberste.
“I just think he lost command and fell behind in some counts and had to throw fastballs in the zone,” Ryan said. “That’s what happens when you fall behind. You have to groove a fastball and good hitters aren’t going to miss it.”
The Power pulled Mulderig after he fanned Patrick Biondi for the second out of the sixth, then reliever Clario Perez promptly gave up a two-run home run to Gavin Cecchini over the left-center field fence.
Smith, who went 3 for 5 in the game with two runs scored and a stolen base, said the Sand Gnats (21-9) weren’t worried when their bats were quiet to start the game.
“Our team is really good and our coach, you could see in the second and third innings, there’d be a runner at third base with less than two outs and he wouldn’t even have the infield play in,” Smith said. “That’s the confidence we have in our lineup to be able to score runs. We knew that we were going to score runs. We knew, sooner or later, we were going to crack them.”
Savannah, the leaders of the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, added a run in the seventh when an Oberste single drove in Sabol.
West Virginia started strong, scoring the first run of the game on Wyatt Mathisen’s second-inning home run. Launched over the left-center field fence, it was his third homer of the season. In the third, Edwin Espinal’s ground out allowed Justin Maffei to score and give the Power a 2-0 lead.
The Sand Gnats finally cracked the scoreboard in the fifth on a pair of two-out hits. Biondi’s single scored Smith, then Cecchini’s triple to center scored Biondi to tie the game.
The Power wouldn’t score again until the seventh, when JaCoby Jones’ sacrifice fly to right scored Elvis Escobar.
West Virginia cranked out 10 hits, but they didn’t turn into many runs. The Power left 10 on base and went 0 for 7 on Wednesday with runners in scoring position. Comparatively, the Sand Gnats went 6 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
“It seems like our best at-bats are when there’s no pressure on us,” Ryan said. “It just maybe showing us that we’re trying to do a little too much. At-bats where there’s no pressure on us and the game is at hand are where we seem to have our best at-bats.”
The two teams face off again Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Dovydas Neverauskas (2-1, 5.32 ERA) is the scheduled starter for West Virginia, while Dario Alvarez (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for Savannah.