Hickman helps Intimidators stay alive

White Sox righty holds fort, matches season high with 6 1/3 innings

Blake Hickman posted a 3.76 ERA in 17 starts this season in the South Atlantic League. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By Bill Ballew / Special to MiLB.com | September 15, 2017 12:27 AM

GREENVILLE, South Carolina -- The Class A Drive entered Game 3 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series looking to wrap up their first title in franchise history.

Kannapolis starter Blake Hickman had other ideas. The right-handed pitcher put a bow on his first active professional campaign with six strong innings in the Intimidators' 5-4 victory in front of 3,402 fans at Fluor Field.

Video: Hickman completes 6 1/3 for Kannapolis

Hickman kept the Drive hitters off balance by mixing his low-90s fastball with a nasty changeup and a solid slider. The University of Iowa product matched his longest outing of the year over 6 1/3 innings despite surrendering a two-out, two-run homer to Ryan Scott in the fourth frame before getting in trouble and departing with one out in the seventh.

"When you step up big-time for your team when it's down 2-0 in the series, that's what you want right there," said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound hurler. "To me, [the Greenville hitters] were too comfortable up there in the first two games. I tried to brush them off the plate if I could while keeping the ball out of the middle of the zone."

Gameday box score

Drafted by the White Sox in the seventh round in 2015, Hickman did not make his professional debut until May 31 after missing more than a year-and-a-half due to ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. He posted a 4-6 record with a 3.76 ERA in 17 starts during the regular season before allowing four runs -- three earned -- on six hits with three strikeouts and three walks against Greenville.

"That was the objective, to finish the year on a good note," Hickman said. "These guys have been pulling for me all year. In the second half, I had to learn about myself as a pitcher. I learned a lot from all the pitchers on the staff. It's been a long season, but a worthwhile one."

Hickman received a 1-0 lead in the third when Zach Remillard hit a one-out single to center field. The second baseman stole second and advanced to third on an overthrow by catcher Roldani Baldwin. Alex Call, Chicago's No. 25 prospect, followed with an RBI groundout to second base to score Remillard.

"Guy on third, one out, the infield was back," said Call, a third-round pick last year. "I was just trying to battle. You got to get it done in that situation in the playoffs. I wasn't trying to do too much, just put the ball in play and have a quality at-bat for the team. Remy made a good read and scored."

Video: Kannapolis' Call triples in a run

After Scott's 416-foot shot off the scoreboard in right gave Greenville a 2-1 lead in the fourth, the Intimidators responded with three in the top of the fifth. Remillard hit a bloop single to right and scored on Call's triple off the center-field wall. The center fielder plated Kannapolis' third run of the game when he slid ahead of Baldwin's tag after second baseman Brett Netzer threw home on fourth-ranked White Sox prospect Blake Rutherford's grounder. The left fielder later scored when Willy Garcia singled to right and the Drive failed to retire Garcia in a rundown between first and second.

"I was feeling great at the plate all night," Call said. "On the triple, I was looking for something out over the plate and put a good swing on it. I thought it was going to go out, but there's nothing wrong with an RBI triple."

Greenville made things interesting in the seventh by getting Hickman out of the game. After Tyler Hill and Tucker Tubbs led off the frame with walks and Jagger Rusconi successfully dropped a bunt down the third baseline, Santiago Espinal brought in a run on a fielder's choice. Kevin Escorcia relieved Hickman and hit Brett Netzer to load the bases. One out later, first baseman Gavin Sheets fumbled a ground ball for an error, scoring Tubbs from third and pulling the Drive to within a run at 5-4.

MiLB include

Kannapolis shut the door in the final two frames behind closer Matt Foster. After going 6-for-6 in save opportunities in 12 outings this season, Foster allowed a single in each inning en route to a five-out save.

The victory halves the Intimidators' deficit at 2-1 heading into Friday night's contest. For Call and his teammates, surviving to play another day was the most meaningful result.

"We all want another day with the boys," he said. "You never know what's going to happen and you don't get this opportunity all the time. You're never going to be with this same group of guys again. The team rallied and it was a lot of fun with a lot of energy coming from everyone."

Bill Ballew is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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