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Bell leads Power past Suns 11-2

Chris Dorst
West Virginia's Walker Gourley went 4 for 4, including this double, against Hagerstown Sunday at Appalachian Power Park.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The knee injury that Josh Bell suffered last April at Appalachian Power Park kept him off the field for 10 months, the longest layoff of his baseball life.

In light of all that down time, it's safe to say that Bell has had to shake off the rust and that the full thrust of his potential has not surfaced in the season's first three weeks.

The Power right fielder entered Sunday's game with a .250 batting average, which was no cause for concern but was far below what the parent Pittsburgh Pirates expect from a guy who, if things go as projected, might be batting cleanup at PNC Park in a few years. The Pirates thought enough of his talent to pay him a $5 million signing bonus.

The 20-year-old's potential was very much on display Sunday afternoon at APP. He went 4 for 5 with a home run to dead center and four RBIs to help the Power recover from back-to-back lopsided losses and defeat the Hagerstown Suns 11-2. A paid crowd of 2,002 attended.

The Dallas-area native appeared in just 15 games last year before being injured and admits the long layoff had an effect.

"It's rough not getting the 400 to 500 at-bats that you're expected to get in a year,'' he said. "I've been getting my timing back. It's been like riding the roller coaster up and down. I'm seeing the ball well now. I hope I can keep it up.''

Said Power manager Michael Ryan, "He's 100 percent healthy, but he's not at his best yet from a timing standpoint. There are some at-bats where he loses that. But he's very close.''

It was an especially satisfying victory for the Power, an up-and-down bunch that lost six of seven in its season-opening home stand and then won six of eight on its first road trip. And after defeating the Suns at home on Thursday, the Power promptly suffered 13-2 and 14-4 losses.

In addition, the Power entered play on Sunday with a South Atlantic League-leading total of 104 runs scored but ranked last in earned run average at 5.65, a statistical distinction fortified by the Suns' recent scoring spree at APP.

In another league-leading number, the Power began Sunday's play with 44 errors - an average of 2.6 a game - but committed just one and executed two double plays.

"We're playing well as a team now,'' said Bell, "and it's coming together.''

The Power picked up 15 hits, including five for extra bases. First baseman Walker Gourley, batting ninth, went 4 for 4 with an RBI.

Ryan happily noted that second baseman Ashley Ponce, batting second, laid down a deft sacrifice bunt in the first inning after lead-off man Max Moroff opened the game with a single.

"In my opinion,'' said the manager, "Ashley Ponce was our spark today. In the first inning, he lays down a bunt on his own. He understands the game and knows what we needed. We went from there.''

Ponce later delivered another sacrifice bunt that contributed to the Power's five-run sixth inning and had two hits and an RBI.

Left-hander Orlando Castro, who did not allow a run in his last two starts, pitched five innings for the victory, surrendering six hits and two runs. He's 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA and has walked just one batter in 201/3 innings this season.

"He by far locates the best in our rotation right now,'' said Ryan. "That makes him effective.''

POWER POINTS: The Power is off today and will visit Charleston, S.C., for three games beginning Tuesday and Savannah for four games starting on Friday. The team will open a seven-game home stand on May 1. ... Bell's four hits lifted his batting average from .250 to .288 and his four RBIs boosted his total to 22. The Power's Stetson Allie started the day with a league-leading 20 RBIs. ... Gourley's 4-for-4 day raised his average from .317 to .359. Allie was 1 for 4 to drop from .388, which ranked third in the league, to .380.

Reach Mike Whiteford at mikewhiteford@wvgazette.com.


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