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.
Willi Castro is no longer the youngest player on his team for the first time in his career. That honor goes to Triston McKenzie. Castro, now 20 years old, earned a preseason prospect ranking of 15 in the Cleveland Indians farm system, according to Baseball America. He started the season slow, hitting just .250 in April. Since then, he has turned up his performance and been a key hitter in the Hillcats lineup.
From the Dominican Republic, he has lived in Florida and Puerto Rico. The Indians signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013 when he was only 16 years old. After two seasons playing in the Arizona League, first as a second baseman and then as a shortstop, he finally moved up to affiliated ball in 2015.
The 2017 season will be the first time since 1998 that the Carolina League hosts its own cavalcade of stars. The last time the Carolina League held an All-Star game featuring the Northern Division stars versus the Southern Division stars, High-A Lynchburg pitcher Triston McKenzie was not even a year old and was still living in Brooklyn, New York. The relocation of two franchises from the California League to the Carolina League during the previous off-season followed the end of the cross-country California-Carolina League All-Star contest.
The Lynchburg Hillcats are once again well represented in the Carolina League’s All-Star Game, set to pit the North and South Divisions against one another on Tuesday, June 20.
With the first half winding down, the Hillcats are still in the race for the first half crown and some of the players to put them in that position were recognized with selections to the North squad for the exhibition event next week. Three pitchers and two position players were picked to fill out the roster initially, with one more late addition giving Lynchburg six total representatives.
After a couple of tough patches earlier in the month, the Lynchburg Hillcats have found that winning recipe in Carolina League play.
Winners of six of their last seven contests, the Indians’ High-A affiliate have charged back into the race in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. At 24-19, they trail the rival Salem Red Sox by three and a half games in the standings.
The Hillcats will play eleven of their next 15 games on the road, which could help them gain even more ground in the division. The ‘Cats have had a tough time at City Stadium this season, going just 11-13 on their home field, but are 13-6 on the road, a mark trailing only Salem’s 14-6 road record for best in High-A.
With the season winding down to its final two weeks, the Lake County Captains are staring down elimination from the postseason picture while working their way back to the .500 mark on the year.
The Captains (26-29) took both of their series over the last week, sweeping four straight from the West Michigan Whitecaps before taking two of three in Fort Wayne from the TinCaps. In winning six of their last seven and seven of their last ten, they have pulled their record within three games of reaching the even mark while tying the Great Lakes Loons for fourth place in the Midwest League Eastern Division. They will host five games in the next four days against Bowling Green before welcoming in Lansing for four home games over the weekend.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log:
After ending July on a four-game losing streak, things have gotten a little bit better for the Lake County Captains over the course of the first week of the final full month of the Class-A regular season.
They wrapped up their series with West Michigan to start the month of August, splitting a pair after dropping the first two games of the four-game set. On the second leg of their road trip, they won the opener against Great Lakes, 8-2, but fell 12-3 and 5-2 in the final two games on Thursday and Friday. They came home to Eastlake on Saturday to start a four-game series with Dayton, losing the opener 7-2 before returning the favor by the same score on Sunday night. They clinched at least a series split with a 5-1 win on Monday.
The Captains (18-25), in seventh place in the eight-team Midwest League Eastern Division, will finish their series with Dayton on Tuesday night before returning to Great Lakes for four more beginning Thursday night. They will come back to Classic Park on Monday to host West Michigan before returning to the road once again.
In other notes from the Captains log:
The Lake County Captains (15-21) ended the month of July in disappointing fashion, dropping each of their final four games after a three-game winning streak earlier in the week. They got back into the win column with an extra inning victory on Monday night.
After taking their road series with Wisconsin with consecutive 6-2 wins last Sunday and Monday, they returned home to host the first place South Bend Cubs. After a 5-4 win in the opener, the Cubs won 3-0 and 11-7 to win the series. The Captains then headed on the road for four with West Michigan and dropped each of the first two games to close out the month. They needed 12 innings to steal a win on Monday as Jose Medina‘s solo homer gave the Captains a 2-1 win.
The Captains will continue their mini-road trip with a final game at West Michigan on Tuesday before moving on to Midland, Michigan, for three games against Great Lakes. Lake County will return home to Eastlake from August 6 to 9 when they host the Dayton Dragons.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log:
The Lake County Captains had a short week since the last Captains’ log as the club went out on the road for a three-game series in Beloit before a three-gamer at Wisconsin.
Coming in with two days of rest after off days on Monday and Tuesday, Brock Hartson led the club to a 4-2 win on Wednesday. Thursday’s game was rained out, leading to a doubleheader split on Friday, with the Captains winning the first game 9-1 before dropping the nightcap, 7-0. In Appleton, a four-run ninth gave the Captains an 8-7 lead, but a two-run home run by Isan Diaz sent Wisconsin to a walk-off win. Lake County recovered from the defeat with wins on Sunday and Monday by 6-2 finals.
After Monday’s game, the Captains remain in the middle of the Midwest League’s Eastern Division with a 13-17 record, a half dozen games behind the front running South Bend Cubs while sitting in fifth place. Following an off day on Tuesday, the club returns home briefly for a three-game set against the Cubs before hitting the road for a seven-game trip with stops at West Michigan and Great Lakes.
In other news from the Captains’ log:
The Midwest League held its All-Star Game on Tuesday, and like their fellow minor league mates from High-A Lynchburg, the Class-A Lake County Captains played big roles in the Eastern Division’s 11-10 victory over the Western Division.
The Captains had four members of their team on the Eastern Division squad, including starters in catcher Francisco Mejia and second baseman Tyler Krieger. Willi Castro was a bench option for the team and Tom Pannone was ready in the bullpen awaiting his turn on the diamond.
The Western Division jumped out to a big 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before the Eastern Division scored their first run in the second inning. It was a Captain who set the stage.
Powered by four late runs against the Great Lakes Loons, the Lake County Captains avoided the series sweep on Sunday with a 4-3 walk-off victory from Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio.
The Captains went 4-2 on the week after sweeping the Lansing Lugnuts in their three-game series from Tuesday through Thursday. All three games were won in dramatic fashion. In fact, all six games played this week by Lake County were decided late, as both of their losses came down to the wire. Their loss on Friday was a reversal of fortune after their sweep of the Lugnuts, as the Loons scored four in the ninth to win 7-4. On Saturday, the Captains allowed two four-run innings, but their comeback fell short despite a five-run seventh inning.
The win on Sunday, coupled with two straight losses by the South Bend Cubs, have the Captains just a half-game out of first place in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division. The first half crown could come down to the wire, as Lake County heads on the road for three in Bowling Green starting Monday before four games in South Bend before the All-Star break.
In other news and notes in the Captains’ log:
The Midwest League announced on Tuesday the representatives for the mid-season Midwest League All-Star Classic on June 21 at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The list of players included four members of the Lake County Captains.
The Indians Class-A affiliate will send three position players and one pitcher to the Eastern Division squad, including their middle infield tandem, a starting pitcher, and his battery mate. Shortstop Willi Castro, second baseman Tyler Krieger, catcher Francisco Mejia, and pitcher Tom Pannone will be the Captains honorees in the 52nd annual midseason exhibition.