Jul 032013
 

Bumped from his spot on defense, Adrian Nieto put on a show on offense last night, having a hand in all five runs in a 5-3 Potomac win over Winston-Salem.

The 23-year-old Floridian backstop went 2-for-2 with three runs scored and two runs driven in, batting as the designated hitter* for the second straight night with Wilson Ramos catching on a rehab assignment. Ramos went 0-for-3 but threw out a baserunner and ran well when he took to the bases after getting plunked in the 5th.
* Whoever let told PA guy to stop that “hitter by designation” crap, thank you.

Nieto drew walks in each of his first two plate appearances. The other Adrian, Sanchez that is, drove him in with a two-out single in the 8th and cue-shot on a hit-and-run play in the 4th. (As an aside, Sanchez played shortstop last night and racked up six assists, showing some fire on defense that’s been missing for most of this season. Perhaps someone told him about Tony Renda?)

After ripping an RBI single to RF in the 5th, Nieto was on his way to his third walk in his fourth plate appearance, even going so far to toss his bat on a 3-0 count, which unfortunately, was a strike. Perhaps he realized the error of showing up the umpire, taking a little extra time to dry off his bat.

Winston-Salem’s Bryan Blough, however, opted not to see if Nieto would be punished for his faux pas by throwing something on the edges. Perhaps he forgot that first base was open, vacated by Mike Gilmartin who was on second after a slow roller moved him up after leading off the inning with a single and Michael Taylor grounded out to short for the second out of the 7th.

Instead, Blough fed Nieto a 3-1 fastball that he did not miss, smacking long home run off the third level of signage above the right-centerfield wall. The blast put Potomac on top 5-3.

Robert Benincasa came on in the 8th, the third Potmac pitcher of the night. Brian Rauh had started and turned in five innings with three runs allowed on six hits, walking none and striking out none. Richie Mirowski, who seems to have found his niche as a setup man, struck out three and let up a single while pitching the 6th and 7th. He would get his team-leading seventh win for his efforts.

Benincasa gave up a leadoff single to Dash No. 2 batter Adam Heisler, but bore down and showed why it’s actually possible, if not advisable, to have your “closer” pitch the 8th as he retired the meat of the Winston-Salem order then mowed down the next three in the 9th (six in a row) for the two-inning save, his fourth in as many appearances since his promotion last month.

Weather permitting, the two teams will conclude their three-game series tonight. Ivan Pineyro (0-0, 9.64) takes the hill for Potomac with Myles Jaye (5-2, 4.96) his counterpart for Winston-Salem.

Jul 022013
 

In a battle of the top two offenses in the Carolina League, No. 1 Winston-Salem beat No. 2 Potomac with three runs in the 8th for a 5-3 win.

Rob Wort took the loss, his first for Potomac this season. After retiring the first two batters on weak flyballs to second and right field, a walk followed by three long hits — a double to left-center, a double to right, a triple to right-center — broke open the 2-2 game and gave the Dash a 5-2 lead.

It’s tempting to write this one off as just another bullpen implosion — which it was — but the ten runners left on and the 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position also bears mention. Indeed, three of the ten were left on in the final two frames as Potomac could only get back one run with a sacrifice fly in the 9th.

Early on, it looked like Potomac was going to have its way with Jake Cose, getting five hits in the first two innings. But the damage was limited to just the one run, which came in on a wild pitch, though Michael Taylor did rip a liner into left that would have plated the run anyway.

Meanwhile, starter Blake Schwartz was doing his part as the starters have for the most part since Kylin Turnbull was sent packing in April. Schwartz gave up a solo shot in the 1st and an unearned run in the 4th for a quality start of two runs over six innings with no walks and four strikeouts.

Cose, as you might have guessed, settled down in the middle innings, allowing a pair of two-out runners in the 4th. Kevin Keyes broke up the Dash pitcher’s modest streak of five batters retired with his seventh HR of the season in the 6th, a not-so-modest blast to left-center that tied the game at 2-2.

Dash reliever Joe Dvorksy would get the benefit (i.e. the win) of the Winston-Salem 8th for pitching a scoreless 7th, allowing a one-out double to Billy Burns.

The two teams meet again tonight with Brian Rauh (0-0, 4.00) facing off against Joe Blough (7-4, 3.92).

Jun 272013
 

Bryce Harper steps to the plate in the bottom of the 1st

Perhaps it was the season in microcosm — minus the rehab appearance by Bryce Harper, of course — as the P-Nats got good starting pitching, uneven bullpen work, and timely hitting in a 6-5 win over Myrtle Beach.

All eyes of course were on the 20-year-old Bryce Harper and he did not disappoint, launching a towering flyball in his second at-bat that hit the first level of signage above and beyond the right field wall. He was originally scheduled to play LF, but switched to DH shortly before gametime as storms swept through the region, though it did not appear as if any significant rainfall had accumulated.

Harper’s HR was the second of the evening. The first was Adrian Nieto’s, a solo blast that cleared all three tiers of signage in the second inning.

Brian Rauh got the spot start in place of Taylor Hill, and filled in admirably with four innings of one-hit ball, walking none and striking out three. He was to be followed by Brian Broderick, who warmed up in the bottom of the 4th and took the mound in the 5th but left during warmups, clutching his right forearm.

David Fischer was summoned on short notice to take over and seemed none the worse for wear in his first inning of work, walking two and striking out two but allowing no hits. The second inning, however, was another story as a hit batsmen, a generously scored single, a walk, a triple, and another single sent him to the proverbial showers with no outs.

Greg Holt let in the runner he inherited with an errant pickoff throw and a sacrifice fly to finish the 6th and pitched around a leadoff single and one-out double — thanks in no small part to Nieto gunning down the leadoff hitter — in the 7th for two scoreless innings.

Down 5-2 in the 8th, the P-Nats began one of their patented runs. Three straight singles by Michael Taylor, Nieto (who went 4-for-4), and Caleb Ramsey cut the deficit to 5-3. Following a Cutter Dykstra strikeout, Adrian Sanchez beat out a double-play ball while Mike Gilmartin drew the two-out walk to load the bases.

Francisco Soriano tied the game with a two-run single up the middle while Billy Burns plated the go-ahead run with a double to left, with Soriano getting thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

Richie Mirowski, who had taken over for Holt in the 8th, set ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to get his 6th win of the season.

The series and homestand concludes tonight with a matchup of Ivan Pineyro (0-0, 9.64) vs. Victor Payano (5-4, 4.41)

Jun 232013
 

The bullpen came through for Potomac with four and 1/3rd scoreless innings and a bases-loaded escape in the 5th as the P-Nats fileted the Mudcats, 7-5.

The offense wasn’t too shabby, either, scoring six times with two outs to give Ivan Pineyro, the newest member of the rotation, a cushion to work with. Adrian Nieto homered in the first inning to complete a three-run rally that begun with a Michael Taylor double to right, while Jason Martinson followed Taylor’s second opposite-field double with his second RBI single to left.

Turns out the 21-year-old would need the padding, as he gave up single runs in the first two innings and long hit in the third. He struck out the side in the fourth, but issued a walk.

While he featured a nasty changeup, Pineyro left way too many pitches up and the Mudcats collected three straight hits to open the 5th and cut the lead to 6-3. It’s always a matter of debate how much leeway the manager has in lifting a starter in the minors, but only an idiot would argue that Pineyro wasn’t hung out to dry.

Instead, Pineyro walked three of the next five batters as Carolina scored twice more. Greg Holt was finally summoned with two outs and the bases loaded to face the inning’s ninth batter, and he got the final out of the 5th to preserve the 6-5 lead.

Potomac got the insurance run in the 7th thanks to an error on a would-be 3-6-3 DP off the bat of Kevin Keyes following a walk and a stolen base by Martinson and a single to center by Nieto.

Holt would dance around two singles in the 6th to get the win, while Brian Rauh came within a two-out triple of two perfect innings in the 7th and 8th to deliver the ball the new closer, Robert Benincasa.

The Mudcats’ Jerrud Sabourin singled to open the 9th, completing a 4-for-4 night with a walk. Benincasa, however, worked around him to strike out the side and earn his first High-A save.

The win moves Potomac to 2-0 on the season as all-star Robbie Ray takes the mound in the series finale, opposed by Carolina’s Nick Pasquale (0-4, 4.31).

Jun 222013
 

Good pitching and timely hitting were the keys to the 5-1 win Potomac posted to open the second half of the 2013 campaign.

Taylor Hill picked up where he left off prior to the break with seven strong innings, allowing one run on a homerun and five hits total. He walked none and struck out one to become the team’s first six-game winner.

Hill gave up a hit in each of the first five frames, leaving the impression that Carolina was justabouttosolvehim, which is always a concern when a pitcher isn’t getting strikeouts. Instead, he retired the last six batters he faced, getting the important shutdown inning after the P-Nats took the lead.

That happened in the bottom of the 6th. The rally started slowly, with Jason Martinson drawing a one-out walk and taking third on a Kevin Keyes double that Carolina left fielder Luigi Rodrgiuez misjudged but nearly caught anyway. Adrian Sanchez steered a single into the 3/4 hole for the go-ahead to plate Martinson and chase Mudcat starter Shawn Morimando.

Francisco Gimenez came on in relief and got an out immediately when Keyes was thrown out trying to score on a grounder to 1st, but walked Cole Leonida to load the bases then hit Randolph Oduber to give the Groovin’ Aruban the Homer Simpson RBI. Billy Burns completed the rally with a bunt down the third base line, taking advantage of the lefthanded pitcher and third baseman having to play back with two outs.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to surprise, the P-Nats No. 3 batter Michael Taylor led off the 7th with a bunt single and took third on what was initially ruled an error as Carolina shortstop Francisco Lindor stabbed and missed at a grounder off the bat of Martinson. Keyes grounded into a double play to send in Taylor for the P-Nats fifth and final run.

Richie Mirowski followed Hill to finish the game, working around a leadoff walk in the 8th and a leadoff double in the 9th for two scoreless innings.

21-year-old Ivan Pineyro makes his High-A debut tonight in Game 2 of the series, with Michael Peoples (0-2, 6.35) opoosing him for the Carolina Mudcats.

Jun 092013
 

It took nearly five hours to play 13 innings of baseball, but the folks that endured the Potomac bullpen woes were rewarded with a pair of one-run victories — 8-7 in the opener, 4-3 in the nightcap as the P-Nats won their ninth and tenth consecutive games.

Ross Detwiler took the hill on a rehab start in Game One and went four innings. Shaking off the rust is the point, of course, and the southpaw scattered seven hits (all singles) over three and 2/3rds innings. Thirty-eight of sixty pitches went for strikes, as the 27-year-old struck out four but walked none.

The offense, which has shown a proclivity for the big inning, got started early with a four-spot in the 1st, highlighted by a triple-double-single sequence from the 4-5-6 batters Jason Martinson, Adrian Nieto, and Kevin Keyes.

Brian Dupra followed Detwiler out of the ‘pen, but was lit up for multiple runs for the third time in his last four appearances as Frederick rallied for two in the 5th and two in the 6th to tie the game at five.

Since this unbeaten streak has begun, the dirty little secret is that Potomac has been able to hit their way out of any pitching mistakes. In 11 games, they’ve scored 74 runs (that’s counting the five scored in the suspended game on Thursday), an average of 6.72 runs per game.

That trend continued as the P-Nats rallied for three in the last of the 6th, as Adrian Sanchez singled, took third on an errant pickoff and trotted home on a Billy Burns triple. Michael Taylor sent in Burns with his big fly that went deep into the woods beyond left field to put up Potomac, 8-5.

The rally helped make a winner out of Richie Mirowski, who had blown the save (his 5th) by letting in two runners he had inherited from Greg Holt, though he served up a two-run homer following an error to make things close, 8-7.

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Having used three relievers in seven-inning game, the P-Nats needed strong start from A.J. Cole in the second game of the doubleheader… and got one. The 21-year-old put on a show, striking out 11 over six innings with just two walks allowed. He allowed just three hits, but one of them left the yard for a solo shot that gave Frederick a 1-0 lead in the 3rd.

Frederick’s Trent Howard, who’s mostly been used as a reliever, kept the Potomac bats quiet for four innings before turning over the ball to Matt Price in the 5th. Price let up a double and a walk in the 5th, then walked Martinson to lead off the 6th.

As is so often in single-A ball, one mistake can turn an ordinary inning into something special (or awful, depending on your point of view). A grounder to third that looked like a 5-4-3 DP with the lumbering Keyes was dropped at second. Instead of two out and nobody on, it was two on and nobody out.

The Keys called on David Walters to clean up the mess, but the 25-year-old veteran only made things worse. He got Sanchez out on a tapper to the mound that was hit too slowly for a twin-killing, but then had trouble hitting the backstop (well, the one with the glove) as he let in Martinson with the first of four wild pitches, then gave up an RBI triple to Justin Miller, an RBI double to Cole Leonida.

After Oduber flied out to right for the inning’s second out, the second wild pitch moved up Leonida. Billy Burns broke his bat and rolled one to short that never saw the infield dirt, as Burns easily beat it out to cap the four-run binge.

Up 4-1, Derek Self was given the ball in the 7th and struck out the first batter. Then, like last call at a singles bar, things got ugly fast. Self walked three of the next four batters, with a single interrupting the string while throwing a wild pitch. (If you’ve lost count, that was the seventh of the game between the two teams).

Rob Wort was summoned with the bases loaded and a 4-2 lead and promptly issued the fourth bases on balls to cut the lead to one at 4-3. He narrowly avoided the fifth walk with a strikeout on a full count then got the grounder to short that Martinson gunned across to end it.

With the doubleheader sweep, and a split between Lynchburg and Salem, Potomac’s magic number is now six with nine games to play in the first half. Taylor Hill (4-2, 3.78) has the dial and will try to set the amp for 11 with Frederick’s Tim Berry (3-3, 4.63) opposing him in the series finale.

Jun 012013
 

Potomac sent nine men to the plate in the first two innings to rack up nine runs en route to a 10-1 win over the first-place Lynchburg, the third straight win for the Woodbridge nine.

Much of the damage was self-inficted. Hillcats thrower A.J. Holland walked the bases loaded to start the game, then gave up a one-run single to Jason Martinson and a two-run safety to Adrian Nieto. A wild pitch brought in the fourth run, a fourth walk ended Holland’s night after just six batters faced.

Veteran reliever James Hoyt got out of the first inning with a flyball, groundout and a strikeout. But the second inning was nearly a repeat of the first. A pair of walks sandwiched around a Jayson Werth single (you did know he was playing, right?) got the bases drunk and Jason Martinson sobered ‘em up with a three-run double.

Adrian Nieto doubled in Martinson, Kevin Keyes got a hometown single as the Hillcat third baseman waved at it and missed for an unruled error to move up Nieto and Caleb Ramsey capped the rally with sacrifice fly to left field.

After two it was 9-0.

The unfortunate side effect of the two crooked numbers was the time Robbie Ray spent cooling on the bench. After the four-run first, it didn’t seem to faze him as the 21-year-old struck out the side. But following the five-run second, his command wavered badly as turned in a Nuke LaLoosh inning of three walks and three strikeouts that ended his night early — the second time this month he was done after just three innings with seven strikeouts.

Colin Bates took over for Ray in the 4th got the win with four innings of scoreless relief, followed by single frames by Rob Wort and Richie Mirowski. After Hoyt, the Lynchburg ‘pen matched their counterparts five goose eggs, but the pressure will be on tonight’s Hillcats starter to go deep.

That’ll be the task for Ryan Weber (3-1, 2.61), with Sammy Solis (0-0, 1.50) making his third trip to the hill since missing 2012 after elbow surgery.
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With the end of the first half in sight (two weeks from tomorrow), the Carolina League North is in for yet another photo finish.

Lynchburg leads Potomac and Frederick by a half game but is in the driver’s seat in that they play those two teams for the next six games, then finish with 10 games against the Southern Division’s second- and third-place teams.

Frederick is playing last-place Wilmington tonight and tomorrow, but it doesn’t get easier for them as they play first- or second-place teams the rest of the way, including eight games against Potomac, though the last five will be at Harry Grove.

On paper, Potomac’s schedule is a little easier than Frederick’s but just five of the next 17 games are at the Pfitz. Whatever “break” they get from playing last-place Carolina for three on June 10-13 is more than offset than four games against the first-place Myrtle Beach.

Which leads us to Wilmington, which could sneak up on everybody by simply splitting with Frederick, then making hay against the Southern Division’s also-rans while the rest of the Northern Division plays each other.

Stay tuned to this space as we track the stretch run.

May 312013
 

Potomac’s two-out knack for offense continued in the series finale, a 7-3 win over Salem.

After scoring six times with two down on Wednesday (in one inning no less), the P-Nats scored four times with two outs. Unlike the night before, both rallies came with two out and nobody on.

Cole Leonida scored the first one with his third home run of the season, a blast to the woods beyond left field that reclaimed the lead for Potomac at 2-1 in the second inning.

In the 7th, ahead again by just a run for the second time at 4-3, Potomac did it again, ruining the High-A debut of Salem’s Madison Younginer. The 22-year-old struck out the first two batters he faced, but couldn’t put away either Randolph Oduber or Billy Burns and walking both the Nos. 9 and 1 batters.

The steal has been a favorite weapon for manager Brian Daubach. It helps, of course, to have the horses (greyhounds?) to run it. Three times in the 7th, Daubach took off the reins (leash?) to put the pressure on, running the P-Nats league-leading stolen base total to 81.

Veteran UT Francisco Soriano singled in Oduber while Michael Taylor doubled in Burns and Soriano to cap the three-run rally and send Younginer to showers.

Also like the night before, the Potomac ‘pen got the job done when the starting pitching faltered.

Well, maybe not faltered, but fell short of the high standard that had been set. Coming into the game, Blake Schwartz had won four of six starts with each start seemingly better than the last, culminating in a two-hit, one-run, eight-inning gem versus first-place Lynchburg last Saturday.

Instead, Schwartz gave up more hits (7) than innings pitched (5⅔) for the first time this year, including just the second HR allowed in 56 innings. Thanks to Matt Grace, the damage would be limited to just three runs (also a season “worst”).

Grace retired seven of eight batters faced, issuing just a one-out walk in the 7th and striking out three to pick up the win, his third against no losses (though he has four blown saves).

Cameron Selik rebounded from his poor showing on Tuesday to set ‘em down in order in the 9th, fanning the first and last batters to nail it down for Potomac.

The win keeps pace with first-place Lynchburg, which won its fourth straight. The Hillcats come to Woodbridge this weekend for the final series between the two teams in the first half. Robbie Ray (3-2, 2.58) takes the hill in Game One against Lynchburg’s A.J. Holland (3-3, 3.47).

May 302013
 

The big Nats may have trouble coming back from deficits of more than two runs, but seven runs? No problem for the P-Nats.

Potomac rallied for six runs with two outs in the 5th, then took the lead with two runs in the 6th to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 8-7 lead. Three relievers combined for four and 2/3rds innings of relief to stave off Salem as Potomac held on for a 9-8 win.

Caleb Ramsey’s grand slam was the big bang in the fifth, a frame that began slowly. With one out, Billy Burns lined one into center and stole second while Randolph Oduber struck out, a gamble of sorts when you’re down seven runs (perhaps not with the Carolina League’s stolen-base leader). Michael Taylor ended the shutout with an RBI double to left and scored when Jason Martinson followed with a safety to center.

It looked like that would be it as Adrian Nieto ripped one to first that Salem’s David Renfroe got a glove on, but booted for his fifth error. Kevin Keyes followed with a high chopper that went for an infield single and loaded the bases. Given those two breaks, Caleb Ramsey made the most out of a 3-1 fastball, launching it over three levels of sponsorship signage into the parking lot behind right field for four runs on one swing.

In the 6th, Justin Miller, who made the first out of the 5th, redeemed himself with a leadoff double. After a Burns sacrifice, Oduber got his shot at redemption for making the second out of the 5th, a rising line drive that went into the woods behind left field for a two runs and an 8-7 lead.

Taylor and Martinson kept it going with a pair of walks, then executed a double steal that paid off as Adrian Nieto’s bid for a third Potomac homer fell 15 feet short, but deep enought for the reigning Carolina League Batter of the Week to stride home with the ninth P-Nat run.

The offensive onslaught was great, but what made it necessary shouldn’t be overlooked. For the second straight start, Taylor Hill gave up seven runs on 10 hits and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Against an offensive powerhouse like Lynchburg, that’s forgivable. Versus the league’s worst lineup? Not so much. As the P-Nats make their second turn through the Carolina League, this is something to watch for: players who dominated early but are now struggling as the proverbial word has gotten out.

The Potomac ‘pen has taken its fair share of abuse in this space, but last night they got the job done.

Greg Holt let in the two runs he inherited from Hill, but was otherwise quite effective: striking out four over two and 2/3rds with two hits and a walk allowed as he earned his second win of the season.

Rob Wort let in the final Salem run in the 8th with an adventurous inning as he walked a man with one out, picked him off, hit a batter, walked another, and gave up an RBI single before Keyes snared a sharp grounder for the inning’s third out, the tying run just 90 feet short.

The defense also helped the pitcher out in the 9th as Derek Self gave up a pair of singles that were erased by Nieto (caught stealing) and Martinson on a 6B-3 DP to end the game. It was Self’s fourth save in eight chances.

The win keeps pace with both Frederick and Lynchburg as the three teams remain just a game and a half apart in the Carolina League North. Blake Schwartz (4-1, 1.00) gets the ball for Potomac with Mike Augliera (4-1, 3.44) as his counterpart on the mound for Salem.

May 282013
 

For six and a third innings, the Potomac Nationals pitchers flirted with a no-hitter. Leading 3-0, the game seemed relatively secure. A single, walk, a fielder’s choice and a two-run double later, the focus rapidly shifted from the statistical anomaly to the more basic task of winning the game.

Matt Grace stranded the tying run at second in the 7th as the P-Nats rallied in the 8th to get some breathing room. Rob Wort mowed ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to secure the 5-2 win that gave Potomac its third straight “W” and kept pace with the first-place duo of Lynchburg and Frederick in the Carolina League North.

It was the first start in Woodbridge for Sammy Solis since August 23, 2011 — a four-inning stint against Wilmington as Washington’s 2nd Round pick of the 2010 Draft was finishing up his first full professional season. Solis would pitch another four innings last night, this time while pitching his way back from Tommy John surgery in March 2012.

Like many “TJers,” Solis struggled with his command, racking up a lot of deep counts and walking three over his four innings. The velocity, however, was as advertised — consistently in the 91-93 range, occasionally touching 94 or 95. Unusually, his touch with the secondary stuff was quite good; the 11-5 curve breaking late and over and the changeup sneaking by batters with good separation from the heat.

Solis struck out four, including the the side in the 3rd, and left the game without a hit as the league-worst Salem offense onlt hit one ball solidly, which third baseman Cutter Dykstra snared in self-defense to end the first inning.

Potomac got on the board in the next half-inning with a sloppy first as Billy Burns, returning after a 12-day absence, “singled” and took second on the throw that hit him in the back prior to touching first base, then advanced third on Michael Taylor’s opposite-field single.

Following a Dykstra popup, Taylor was caught leaning towards second and Burns, who scampered home on a similar rundown in his previous game, couldn’t repeat the feat and was thrown out between third and home. Taylor, however, did move up to second and scored on Adrian Nieto’s two-out single.

Burns teamed up with No. 9 man Randolph Oduber in the 5th for the second and third P-Nats runs, with the Groovin’ Aruban walking and Burns dropping down an actual bunt single. The lineup bookends executed a double steal after a Taylor flyout and both scored on Dykstra’s two-run single to extend the Potomac lead to 3-0 after five.

David Fischer got the benefit of the offense, taking over for Solis in the 5th and turning in two hitless innings with two walks and an error before running into trouble in the 7th, letting up a single to end the no-hit bid, walking the next batter, and throwing a wild pitch to set up Salem’s Jose Garcia for a two-run double that sliced the margin from 3-0 to 3-2.

As aforementioned, Grace got the final out of the 7th and retired the side in 8th, getting an assist the hard way with a grounder up the middle that went off his leg and rolled on over to first baseman Kevin Keyes for the third and final out.

Potomac put it away in the bottom of the 8th as Keyes singled with one out, Adrian Sanchez walked with two outs, and Francisco Soriano tripled them home for the 5-2 edge that Wort secured with a pair of strikeouts for the save. The win went to Fischer while the hold went to Grace — the first of the season in each category for both relievers.

The series continues with A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.98) taking the hill tonight against Salem’s Kyle Stroup (2-3, 4.86).