Cavs drop tough game at Harbor Park

Published 9:39 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NORFOLK — Lakeland’s and Hickory’s baseball teams got a taste of playing on a big stage Wednesday afternoon by taking the field at Harbor Park, home of the AAA-level Norfolk Tides.

In a well-pitched, well-defended game from both sides, Hickory used two runs in the first inning to lead throughout and get a 3-1 Southeastern District victory.

Danny Grauer tossed a complete game for the Hawks, holding Lakeland to five hits while striking out five.

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Jeremy Hagwood fired a complete game for the Cavaliers, holding Hickory to four hits and one walk. Back on opening day of the district season, Hickory and Lakeland played a much different game with the Hawks winning 18-9.

Lakeland’s defensive effort and execution kept the game tight after Hickory got on the board in the bottom of the first thanks to a one-out RBI triple by third-place hitter Will Flora. Jake Shelor’s groundout scored Flora.

Hagwood was excellent from there, inducing pop-ups and fly outs by the Hawks. Fourteen of the 18 Hickory outs came through the air, which meant Hagwood relied on solid defense behind him.

Lakeland cut the Hickory lead in half, but had the chance to do more, in the fifth inning. With one out, Cody Holland walked and Brandon Snook followed with a single through the right side of the infield.

Moving to the top of the Cavalier order, Justin Hike hit a line drive right at Hickory’s second baseman for the second out. On a pick-off attempt to get Snook a couple strides off of first, the throw from the second baseman was wild and went into the first-base dugout for a two-base error, allowing Holland to score and Snook to go to third.

David Waterfield walked and stole second, to put two guys in scoring position for Hagwood, Lakeland’s third-place hitter. Hagwood popped out to short right field and the Hawks got out of danger.

After Hickory regained a two-run advantage in the bottom of the fifth, Lakeland threatened again in the sixth, but two Cavs on base with two outs was as close as they got.

In the Hickory sixth, the final two outs came on excellent defensive plays, keeping the Hawks from adding to their lead.

Waterfield, at second base, made a diving stop on a sharp grounder headed for center field, then quickly got to his feet for an accurate throw to first for the second out of the inning.

With a Hawk on second, Snook, in right field, made a diving catch coming in and toward the foul line for the third out.

Despite the defensive plays keeping Lakeland within striking distance, Hickory’s Grauer finished the Cavaliers in order in the seventh.

“To play in a minor league stadium, in a triple-A stadium, it was pretty intense,” said Hike, the starting shortstop for the Cavs.

Playing on a professional field was an adjustment from a regular high school diamond.

“It was super-fast out there. Running to first base, it felt like it took a mile to get there, and on the infield, it was really quick,” said Hike.

“We still have a lot of the season left. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time, but we can still get into the districts,” said Hike. “We’re not out of it yet. We’re still in it, but this was a tough loss.”

A good crowd of 300-400 watched the Cavaliers and Hawks. During the game, in the Lakeland dugout, the visitors’ dugout during Tides’ games, a few players and coaches from the Gwinnett County Braves (Atlanta’s AAA team) hung around the Lakeland dugout. Gwinnett and Norfolk were set to play later Wednesday evening.

Lakeland (6-8, 5-7) travels to Oscar Smith on Friday and will host King’s Fork on Saturday.