Hillcats are Carolina League Co-Champs After Defeating Frederick
Bob Toth | On 10, Sep 2017
The Lynchburg Hillcats put up four runs in the third and three more in the sixth to coast to a 7-1 victory to take the rubber match of the Carolina League’s Northern Division Championship Series from the Frederick Keys on Saturday night.
The victory gave the Hillcats a share of the Carolina League championship, an honor that they will share with the Down East Wood Ducks, who won their series on Friday to claim the Southern Division Championship Series.
Typically, the Northern Division champions would face off with the Southern Division winners. But, Hurricane Irma’s approach led to the cancellation of the annual Mills Cup Championship, so the Hillcats will have to settle for a co-championship with the Southern Division’s Wood Ducks.
Weather issues had already wreaked havoc on the Class-A Advanced playoffs, as the division championship series were both reduced from five games to three with the threats of rain in the forecast. The series between the Hillcats and Keys was supposed to start on Wednesday, but a wet forecast in Maryland forced the game to be shifted to Thursday before the series came to Virginia for the final two games in Lynchburg.
The Hillcats and Keys had split the first two games of their reduced three-game series, with Frederick winning on Thursday in their home game, 10-9, after rallying with nine runs in the final three innings while walking off after a four-run bottom of the ninth. Triston McKenzie (7 innings, 3 hits, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts) and Dominic DeMasi (2 perfect innings, 3 strikeouts) combined on a three-hitter in the Hillcats’ opener on Friday, leading Lynchburg to a 4-0 win to even the series at one game apiece.
The Hillcats had a well-balanced attack on Saturday. The offense provided plenty of support behind a pair of big innings and the pitching staff struck out 13 and was led by four no-hit innings from right-hander Brock Hartson, who was making his first appearance on the mound in two weeks.
Ka’ai Tom got the offense going in the third inning as the Hillcats took the lead. He doubled to left-center and Sam Haggerty followed with a five-pitch walk. Willi Castro grounded to third but was able to reach successfully on an error to load the bases. After a strikeout by Andrew Calica, Gavin Collins drove in the first runs of the game with a single to center, scoring both Tom and Haggerty. Castro was gunned down at third on the play for the second out, but the Hillcats had a 2-0 lead. Another error in the inning allowed Mitch Longo to reach safely to put two on for Martin Cervenka, who doubled both in to double the Hillcats’ lead to 4-0.
Lynchburg loaded the bases again in the sixth, this time against Frederick’s Jefri Hernandez. After a groundout to open the inning, Connor Marabell and Sicnarf Loopstok each reached on singles. A fly to center by Tom recorded the second out before Haggerty walked to load the bases. A passed ball allowed Marabell to score and Castro scored the remaining two base runners with a two-run single to right to make it a 7-0 ball game. Hernandez would be ejected shortly thereafter, following several wild pitches with Calica at the plate.
Hartson struck out seven in his stellar short start, working four innings and allowing just one walk. Adam Plutko gave up the first Frederick hit of the game in his one and two-thirds innings of work following Hartson while striking out a pair. Ben Krauth retired the only batter that he faced and Luke Eubank worked two perfect innings with four Ks.
The lone run for the Keys would come in the ninth against reliever Argenis Angulo. Frederick’s Chris Clare doubled to start the inning, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a sacrifice fly before Angulo recorded the final out to secure the title.
The playoff trip for the Hillcats marked the sixth straight season that the club had reached postseason play. The club was looking for its first outright title since 2012 and the co-championship gives the Hillcats eight crowns in franchise history.
Lynchburg won both the first half and second half Northern Division titles on the way to an 87-52 record during the regular season.
Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats