Hoover, Johnson power Birds to win opener

Lynchburg, VA - From the Myrtle Beach Pelicans

LYNCHBURG, VA – If the Pelicans get the Cody Johnson they remember from the first half of the 2009 season back in the heart of their order now, a once-hapless lineup is going to be a lot scarier down the tight Carolina League Southern Division stretch in 2010. Through the big former first rounder's first handful of games back in the Carolina League, opposing pitchers have taken notice that his bat may be back.

Johnson drove home a season high-tying four runs, three of them on a crucial eighth-inning homer, and continued to showcase a fresh approach at the plate in his sixth game back in the Carolina League, and J.J. Hoover dominated the Lynchburg Hillcats over six shutout innings in a 7-4 series-opening win at Lynchburg City Stadium.

Hoover, the lone remaining arm in the rotation from Myrtle Beach's "Big Three" earlier this summer along with fellow top prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran, continued to be the most consistent starter in the Pelicans' arsenal and strangled Lynchburg's offense from the get-go. The big righty fanned the side in the first inning and didn't face a man over the minimum until back-to-back hits by Cody Puckett and Neftali Soto in the fourth. After working out of that first-and-third, one-out jam, Hoover (11-6) allowed just one more baserunner through his six innings of work.

His offense put him to work in the first already with a run of support after a one-out Cory Harrilchak double and a two-out Mike Jones RBI single. In the fourth, the Pelicans used a similar formula, with Gerry Rodriguez walking to lead off the inning and coming around to score on Johnson's two-out single for a 2-0 lead.

Then, the Pelicans found the homer stroke that has served them so well as of late. Harrilchak led off the top of the sixth with a rocket shot homer over the right field wall to extend the Birds' advantage to 3-0 against Lynchburg starter Curtis Partch (5-9). It marked the seventh straight game with a Myrtle Beach homer, by far the Pelicans' longest streak of the season.

Two innings later, after Lynchburg cut into their deficit at 3-1, it was Johnson's turn again. The single-season Myrtle Beach home run king from 2009 took one step closer to becoming the franchise's all-time leader in jacks with a three-run missile over the right field fence to give his club some breathing room at 6-1. The homer was Johnson's 34th in a Pelicans uniform in parts of two seasons in the Carolina League, putting him one shy of Isaiah Ka'aihue's career total of 35, the most for any Birds player.

With another run across on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly, the Pelicans carried a 7-1 advantage to the home half of the final frame. Lynchburg's offense mounted a furious two-out rally, but with Tommy Palica on for the Pelicans and the tying run at the plate in the person of Neftali Soto, the Myrtle Beach southpaw induced a pop-out to Cole Miles for the final out of the night. Miles, playing second base for the first time since late 2009, made a pair of sparkling defensive plays in the field and tripled in the ninth, scoring the Pelicans' final run.

This series continues tomorrow with game two of this four-game set at Lynchburg City Stadium. First pitch is slated for 7:05. The Pelicans return home on Friday, August 20 to welcome in the Kinston Indians for three games at BB&T Coastal Field.