Cutters’ 5 errors lead to 8 Lake Monster runs

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport first baseman Juan Aparicio waits for the throw as Vermont’s Michael Woodworth dives back to first base on a pick off attempt in the first inning.

Nate Fassnacht ranged to his left to get in front of a bounding baseball which should have spelled the end of the first inning. But the ball rolled up his arm and he then kicked it toward the right-field foul line, allowing Vermont’s Michael Woodworth to score from second base.

Jake Holmes followed it up by whiffing on a routine grounder. Then the wheels really fell off the wagon. Williamsport starting pitcher Jose Conopoima allowed five unearned runs in a 26-minute first inning which he didn’t escape, and for the one of the first times this year the Crosscutters played as poorly defensively as their record indicates they are in an 11-2, series-opening loss to Vermont.

Eight of the 11 runs scored by Vermont were unearned because of five Williamsport errors. The Cutters’ offense struck out 11 times and didn’t score in a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation.

“All of them were not tough plays, they were just errors,” Williamsport manager Pat Borders said. “Sometimes that’s what happens when you start pressing to do everything right and not give up any runs.”

He shrugged at the notion of the five errors last night, not to be dismissive, but to understand baseball has these kinds of nights. Borders has generally been happy with how the team has played but not with the results in the win-loss column. But it was tough for him to hide a downtrodden emotion following Wednesday’s game at Bowman Field.

He lit up at the notion of the offense putting together quality at-bats for nine innings, which Williamsport did. Logan O’Hoppe hit his second home run of the season and was on base three times. Juan Aparicio had two more hits, and the offense as a whole had nine hits.

But none of that could overcome the shortcomings of a defense which constantly put its pitching staff behind the 8-ball and put the offense in a 5-0 hole before it ever set foot in the batter’s box. Williamsport’s 39 errors this year are the second-most in the New York-Penn League. But they were a middle-of-the-road defense team until committing 13 errors over its last four games. And those last four games include an error-free win against Mahoning Valley.

The Cutters had finally come into a series with some momentum after winning the final two games in Mahoning Valley on Monday and Tuesday. It was the first time this season the Cutters had won back-to-back games, and it was the first time they won a series in nine tries. And all of the momentum seemed to be erased with a listless defensive performance on the infield which led either directly or indirectly to 10 of Vermont’s 11 runs.

“I don’t think it’s a step back. You have so many games and there’s a new game to play tomorrow. That’s not a cliche, it’s just how baseball is,” Borders said. “You put this game behind you and move on. We did win those two games and we did play well, and I thought we played well offensively here (Wednesday), too. If the kids roll over and don’t come back, that’s a problem, but I’ll make sure they don’t do that.”

The first-inning errors from Fassnacht and Holmes forced starting pitcher Jose Conopoima to face four betters more than he should have had to in the first inning. And he got none of those four extra batters out. And inning which should have ended harmlessly after four batters and 12 pitches instead lasted eight batters and 30 pitches before Conopoima was lifted by Borders following a walk to Shane Selman.

Reliever Anton Kuznetsov appeared to be working around a one-out double in the second inning. He induced a grounder up the third-base line with two outs, but the ball bounced out of Holmes’ glove on the backhand side allowing Kevin Richards to reach and Jordan Diaz to score pushing the Lake Monsters’ lead to 6-0.

Brayan Gonzalez’s floated throw to first after making a fantastic stop up the middle of a leadoff ground ball in the third inning pulled Aparicio off the bag at first and he dropped the ball as he tried to apply the tag. Lawrence Butler eventually came around to score on a Yerdel Vargas RBI single.

It was a tough night for Gonzalez who dropped a ball on the transfer after making a sliding stop in the first inning which allowed a run to score. The 19-year-old shortstop was also 0 for 4 at the plate with four of Williamsport’s 11 strikeouts.

“He has a tendency to be stiff. He plays stiff and he’s just trying to get rid of the ball quick, and that’s kind of his Achilles’ heel,” Borders said. “He’s trying to get rid of it quick and not setting his feet. I guess his game clock there was not right. Maybe he thought the runner was faster than he was and he thought he had to get rid of the ball quick.”

Fassnacht’s wide throw to second after double clutching on a potential double-play ball in the sixth inning led to Diaz’s three-run home run which traveled an estimated 428 feet to left-center field. Making his Williamsport debut, Cutters pitcher Hsin-Chieh Lin was one of two Williamsport pitchers to allow an earned run. Two of the runs he surrendered on Diaz’s homer were earned. A ninth-inning run allowed by Adam Cox on a Selman triple was also earned.

Otherwise, Conopoima lowered his ERA to 1.26 despite allowing five runs. Kuznetsov’s ERA dropped to 3.00 despite allowing two runs.

“I thought they all threw well for the most part. Conopoima didn’t deserve that fate,” Borders said. “He could have been out of the first inning with no runs and only a few pitches. When you stack a few errors like that in a row, then you feel bad for the pitcher and I’m sure the other players do, too. And that’s what maybe compounds the anxiety of trying not to make errors.”