Cutters split with Mahoning Valley at Bowman

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Mahoning Valley’s Michael Cooper scores as Williamsport catcher Herbert Iser loses the ball on a sacrifice in the second inning of a doubleheader Thursday at Bowman Field. The Crosscutters won the first game, 8-1, and lost the second, 3-2.

Adam Cox’s slider hasn’t always been a weapon he could use in any count. It’s primarily been a out-pitch to finish off a batter.

But Thursday night in the opener of a doubleheader, the Williamsport Crosscutters’ reliever went to the pitch a little more than usual. His command of the pitch was better than normal. And mixing it with a low-90s fastball, Cox was at his best.

He used the two-pitch mix to wiggle out of a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the third inning with the Cutters holding a one-run lead, and he went on to post his fifth scoreless appearance in seven outings this year. That performance helped Williamsport win the first game at Bowman Field last night, 8-1, before dropping the nightcap to Mahoning Valley, 3-2.

What the Williamsport offense did in the first game with five extra-base hits was sexier, especially considering those five extra-base hits were either triples or home runs from Logan O’Hoppe and Hunter Hearn. But what Cox did, cooling off a Scrappers rally in relief of starter Hsin-Chieh Lin, was what allowed the offense the room to take off like it did.

“That was huge. It got us in the dugout quick and we put up some runs to cushion him,” said O’Hoppe, who homered for the fourth time this year in the fifth inning. “That slider is usually his best control pitch, but (Thursday) it was even better. He’s made his adjustments and he’s putting in his work like everyone else. Today was just a little flash of what he can do.”

Williamsport was leading Mahoning Valley, 2-1, in that fateful third inning when, after picking up the first out, Lin allowed a walk and a double consecutively and he was lifted from the game. Cox fell behind George Valera, 2-1, but used that slider to get the strikeout swinging. He got ahead of Michael Cooper, 1-2, then dropped a front-door slider for a called strike three.

Cox struck out three last night, which is a season high, and he’s averaging better than a strikeout per inning this year working out of the bullpen.

“I love coming in for high-pressure situations,” Cox said. “It’s a lot of fun and makes you focus more. You don’t get complacent. With one out and two guys on and you’re up by one, it’s a pretty big spot. But regardless of the situation, you have to execute, execute, execute.”

Cox executed for 2 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season. He retired all eight hitters he faced.

And after he stranded two runners in scoring position, the Williamsport offense made sure it didn’t go for naught. Kendall Simmons drove in Corbin Williams with a sacrifice fly after Williams stole his league-leading 17th base and went to third on a throwing error. And two batters later Juan Aparicio hit the third of Williamsport’s three triples to drive in Phillies first-round pick Bryson Stott from first base.

Williamsport made a habit out of hitting the ball hard in the first game, especially off Mahoning Valley starter Jhonneyver Gutierrez, who allowed four of Williamsport’s eight runs. Hunter Markwardt’s RBI triple came on a 407-foot fly ball which had a 100 mph exit velocity. Aparicio’s triple traveled 412 feet with a 99 mph exit velocity. O’Hoppe’s three-run home run traveled 395 feet after he went down in the zone to get it. And Hearn’s solo home run was a 412-foot shot.

“I think we’re playing the same game, it comes down to a few big hits here or there,” Cox said. “Our team has a ton of extra-base hits and we hit the ball pretty well. It just hasn’t come together completely yet. But we’ve strung together a few wins recently and it feels a lot better.”

O’Hoppe’s 2 for 3 performance in the first game last night continued a week-long stretch which has seen the catcher boost his batting average 70 points. Over his last six games, O’Hoppe is hitting .381 (8 for 21) with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and six RBIs.

The former 23rd-round pick is hitting just .197 for the season, but his last week of production has made him a viable option in the middle of a lineup which added Stott over the weekend and has been boosted by Williams in the leadoff spot and Jake Holmes’ production since being sent here from Lakewood a week ago.

“I’m just trying to have quality at-bats and hit the ball hard,” O’Hoppe said. “Earlier in the year I was trying to do way too much in my head. Now I’m trying to do one thing at a time. And little by little it’s coming around.”

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