By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — During spring training, Hawaii native Zach Kometani saw snow for the first time since he was in sixth grade.
Now, he’s making it rain runs.
Kometani blasted a first-inning, two-run home run to help the Traverse City Beach Bums top the Frontier Greys 6-2 Thursday at Wuerfel Park to remain in first place.
“It was a little crazy,” Kometani said of the late spring snowfall in Traverse City. “It was the first time I had seen snow in awhile. I used to go skiing a lot when I was younger. It was kind of a surprise for that one day here it snowed in spring training. It was kind of cool, but that day was really sunny and then it started snowing. It was weird.”
What wasn’t all that weird was Kometani contributing to the offense. The Traverse City designated hitter has four hits in the last two games and is sixth in the Frontier League with 54 RBIs.
Kometani belted a 3-1 pitch to cap off a four-run first inning that would be all the offense the Beach Bums would need.
Pitchers Ben Rawding, Burny Mitchem and Matt Miller did the rest, not allowing a run after the second inning.
Lake Erie beat Washington 11-1 to keep pace with the Beach Bums and remain in a tie atop the East Division.
For the second straight night, Carlo Testa and Kometani were the only Beach Bums with multiple hits, each collecting two.
Traverse City’s first inning started off with Ryan Still reaching on an error when Alvaro Ramirez dropped a fly ball to center. Jose Vargas drove in the first run with a double, and Testa — hitting cleanup in place of Chase Burch — also had an RBI double. Then Kometani blasted one to left field for his eighth home run of the season.
The Bums added more runs in the seventh when Ryan Still caught right fielder JJ Muse playing shallow and popped one over his head that bounced twice and went over the wall for a ground-rule double to bring in Scott Woodward, who had lashed a double down the right-field line. Matt Howard followed Still with an RBI double of his own to plate Still.
The inning ended with a bizarre double play. Testa hit a ball to shallow left field that was misplayed and dropped, but with runners on first and second, Matt Howard was in no-man’s land and was thrown out at third for the second out. Pitcher Ryan Woolley, who was covering the base as third sacker Eric Avila was one of the defenders chasing after Testa’s hit, started walking back to the mound. That’s when Jose Vargas tried to steal third base, which was left undefended as Avila was still in the outfield.
“For the first time ever, we got caught on that,” Langbehn said. “I’m not exaggerating. ... There’s a momentary lapse where there’s nobody (on third) and the pitcher’s walking back to the mound and it becomes a foot race.”
With some notification from the Frontier dugout, Woolley won that race, tagging Vargas for the inning’s final out. Had they made it, Testa likely would have stolen second and the Greys would have had to pitch to Kometani with two runners in scoring position and a chance to really break the game open.
Instead, Kometani led off the eighth with a single and was stranded at third.
The Beach Bums (47-31) head to West Division-leading Schaumburg for three game starting today before closing out the road trip with three in River City.
“I’ve been on a little roll here, so hopefully we can keep it going against Schaumburg,” Kometani said. “They’re a good team in the league, so hopefully we can get some wins.”
Langbehn said he hopes to have at least a .500 mark in the six-game road trip before coming home for nine straight at Wuerfel Park to close out the regular season.
Rawding (1-0) earned his first professional victory in his second start, going five innings.
The left-hander mowed down the Greys’ left-handed hitters, as Ramirez, Justin Vasquez and Mark Micowski combined for an 0-for-7 night against him with one walk and six strikeouts.
After giving up single runs in both the first and second innings, Rawding settled down and sat down the Greys in order in the third and fourth. He fanned eight in five innings.
“He started OK, got through it (early),” said Langbehn, who was nearly hit by a foul ball off Ramirez’s bat in the sixth inning. “He settled in and got into a little groove there. He just threw strikes and had better misses with his balls. That’s what we’re looking for. ... I think he can be a significant part of what we’re looking to do here.”
Burch missed the game due to various “aches and pains,” Langbehn said. He hoped the slugger would be back in the lineup for today’s series opener against Schaumburg.
Frontier’s Matt Costello lasted four innings, not giving up a run after the first. He was replaced in the fifth by 6-foot-9 righty Kyle Brady, who tossed two scoreless frame.
The Greys’ Ryan Berry was hit hard, giving up three hits and a walk while recording only one out. He has given up nine earned runs in 4.1 innings against Traverse City this year.
Mitchem struck out the side in the seventh, as he and Miller each worked a pair of scoreless innings.