There were two things that stood out for the Hoppers Saturday night - a blazer named Lolo Sanchez and a machine named Brad Case.
Sanchez put his vaunted speed on display with an inside-the-park home run and Case was his usual efficient self on the mound, which added up to a 4-0 win for the Hoppers over Lakewood.
Case's stellar pitching enabled the Hoppers to cling to a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning. That's when Sanchez provided the play of the night.
With Raul Siri on first base, Sanchez laced a sinking line drive to center field. Lakewood's 6-foot-8-inch center fielder, Carlos De La Cruz, raced in and uncoiled his frame in a diving attempt to make the catch. But he missed and the ball skipped past him and started rolling toward the center field wall.
That's when everyone knew what the likely outcome would be.
"When I rounded second base, I knew I needed to get to home plate," Sanchez said, with Siri helping to translate. "It was very exciting because that's a difficult thing to do."
Siri rounded third and headed home and manager Miguel Perez, coaching at third base, gave the windmill signal to Sanchez to keep running. He probably could have scored standing up but Siri, just to be safe as Lakewood relayed the ball in, gave Sanchez the sign to slide. He did and popped up to head to the dugout for hearty congratulations from his teammates.
It was the fourth homer of the season for the 20-year old Sanchez and the second time in his career he had accomplished the feat. The first came last year with the West Virginia Power.
Perez made up his mind as soon as the ball scooted past the outfielder.
"My mindset was I was going to send him (home) regardless," Perez said. "He's fast and you know it, but he has this turbo or something to help him run faster."
Case, the beneficiary of the play, said it was "electric" to watch Sanchez. The result moved the game from 1-0 to 3-0.
"That helps you breathe," Case said of the extra runs.
He went back out for the top of the seventh inning and put another zero on the board. Braeden Ogle wrapped things up with two shutout innings of relief.
Case, now 6-1 on the season with a 1.63 ERA, won his fifth straight start. He has pitched seven innings in each of his last three outings. In his previous start, a week ago at Lakewood, he had a perfect game through six innings and gave up a lone hit in the seventh.
The right-hander is efficient but not robotic on the mound. He repeats his delivery consistently, keeps the ball low and uses a cut fastball to throw hitters off-stride. His control is near-perfect - just two walks in 49 2/3 innings.
"My cutter felt really good," he said, referring to striking out the side in the first inning. "I just get the ball and let it rip. I'm getting good movement on it."
Perez said Case has an effective slider and a good fastball that he keeps down.
"He utilizes the cutter in hitter's counts," Perez said. "They're expecting a fastball but it has late movement and produces weak contact."
Case's only shaky inning was the fourth, when he had runners on second and third with two outs. De La Cruz hit a hard line drive right at shortstop Kyle Mottice, who snagged it to end the inning.
The Hoppers managed just four hits. Pat Dorrian drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning and Siri added an RBI double in the seventh.
The teams play a doubleheader Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m. Steven Jennings will pitch the opener for the Hoppers. The second game will be a committee approach, with Conner Loeprich getting the start.