The Columbus Catfish moved closer to a division title, beating the Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets) 5-3 tonight, completing a 4-game sweep, as 2nd place Charleston split a double-header with Rome.
The Catfish scored in the 2nd inning, when, with 1 out, RF Ryan Royster singled, then moved to second on a ground out by 2B Seth Dhaenens, and scored on a line drive single to center by 1B Matt Fields.
In the 3rd, CF Maiko Loyola singled and stole second. RF John Matulia sacrificed Loyola to third, but a throwing error by Savannah pitcher Greg Mullens allowed Loyola to score and Matulia to move to second. With 1 out, DH Quinn Stewart singled, scoring Matulia. Stewart wound up on second on a fielding error. Stewart moved to third when Royster singled. Dhaenens sacrificed Stewart home, putting the Catfish up 4-0.
Savannah scored in the 5th, when, with 2 outs, Brandon Richey got the first clean hit of the night for Savannah, a double to left, scoring Jonathan Santos, who had walked. Prior to that hit, the only other hit Catfish starter Jeremy Hall had allowed was a 2nd inning by-rule single, where a runner was hit by a batted ball. Had the ball missed the runner, the Catfish would likely have turned an inning-ending double play.
The Catfish padded the lead in the 6th. SS Jairo De La Rosa singled and stole second, then moved to third on a ground out. With 2 outs, 3B Cesar Suarez singled him in, giving the Catfish a 5-1 lead.
Savannah added runs in the 8th and 9th innings, but could get no closer, and the Catfish had their sweep.
Hall went 6 innings in his first appearance for the Catfish, after being called up from Princeton of the Appalachian League. He allowed 1 run on 4 hits, walking 4 and striking out 4 to pick up his first South Atlantic League win.
Columbus native Brian Baker pitched a perfect 7th. Wilton Noel allowed a run on 2 hits in the 8th, and closer Neal Frontz allowed an unearned run on 2 9th inning hits to notch his 18th save.
Every Catfish batter reached base at least once, with all but one getting at least one hit. Matulia, Royster, and Fields all had 2 hits. The Catfish left 8 runners on base, 4 in scoring position, but strong pitching and some great defensive plays meant that 5 runs was plenty.
Defensively, Dhaenens had an outstanding grab of a line drive over his head, doubling up a Savannah runner to end a Savannah come-back in the 8th. And, on the last play of the game, with Savannah down by 2 and the bases loaded and two out, De La Rosa stopped a ball hit behind the bag at second, and threw it back-handed, while still moving away from the bag, to Dhaenens covering second, to end the game.
The win, coupled with Charleston's split with Rome, gives the Catfish a 2-1/2 game lead with 7 games remaining. Charleston invades Columbus Tuesday night to open a 3-game series, with the outcome likely to determine the 2nd half champion of the SAL Southern Division.
Notes: Tonight's win by the Catfish officially eliminates Kannapolis from playoff contention, despite the Intimidators' win over Greensboro.
The Catfish "magic number" for clinching a playoff spot is 5. That means any combination of Catfish wins or opponent losses totaling 5 puts the Catfish in the playoffs. Against 2nd place Charleston, the "magic number" is 5. The number is 4 with Asheville, 3 with Augusta, and 2 with Rome. Kannapolis, Greensboro, and Savannah have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Augusta already has a playoff spot. The Greenjackets won the 1st half with a 50-20 record. If Augusta wins the 2nd half, a wild-card team will be awarded a spot. The Catfish currently lead the wild card race by 2 games over Asheville, and by 6-1/2 games over Charleston.
In the Northern Division, West Virginia won the first half (48-20). Hickory (37-26) leads the 2nd half by 3-1/2 games over Lake County (nee Columbus RedStixx) (32-28).