Rains stopped the start of Game 1 of the Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series on Wednesday and the Potomac pitching staff stopped the Lynchburg offense as the Nationals defeated the Hillcats, 7-0, in the rain-shortened opener of the best-of-three series.
A delay of one hour and 13 minutes slowed the start of the Carolina League playoffs and both offenses were quiet through the first two innings, with the Hillcats getting a leadoff single from Tyler Krieger to start the night before he was erased on a double play ball by P-Nats starter Boone Whiting. Lynchburg would get just one more hit the rest of the night, a leadoff single from Connor Marabell to start the third.
Lynchburg’s Matt Esparza worked around a pair of two-out singles in the first and a leadoff walk in the second, but Potomac got to him in the bottom of the third as they took a lead that they would never look back from. Victor Robles singled to right. One out later, Kelvin Gutierrez doubled to right. Esparza intentionally walked Raudy Read to set up forces, but Drew Vettleson reached safely on a fielder’s choice, scoring Robles with the game’s first run before Esparza struck out Osvaldo Abreu and got Bryan Mejia to ground out.
Potomac extended their lead in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, D.K. Carey tripled to right and scored on a single from Robles. He stole second and Austin Davidson walked before a single by Gutierrez scored the third run of the night and ended Esparza’s outing. Leandro Linares, on in relief, would load the bases but escaped unharmed.
The Nationals loaded the bases again in the fifth with one out. Matthew Page singled and moved to third on back-to-back hit by pitches from Linares. A single to right by Davidson scored one, bringing Jared Robinson on from the bullpen. He got a grounder to Bobby Bradley at first, who threw to the plate for the force, before a fly to right to end the threat.
Lynchburg got their third base runner of the game in the sixth when Krieger reached safely for the second time, this one via a two-out walk. He was stranded as Francisco Mejia flied out to left.
Potomac added three more runs to push their lead to 7-0 in the home half of the sixth as Vettleson and Abreu each reached on singles against Robinson. A sacrifice moved both runners up and both came in to score on a double from Page to make it 6-0. A single from Carey made it a seven-run lead before a double play grounder ended it.
The Hillcats got what would turn out to be their last at bats in the top of the seventh as Anthony Santander flied to right, Bradley did the same, and Dorssys Paulino grounded to third before the rains returned.
Whiting got the win and the complete game shutout with his fifth win of the season against Lynchburg. Esparza took the loss for the Hillcats as their recent offensive woes could not have picked a worse time to arrive.
Lynchburg has now lost each of its last seven playoff games and has been shut out three times in the last eight games after being blanked just once through the first 133 games of the regular season. They have not won a postseason game since claiming the Mills Cup Championship Series in 2012, prior to their time as an Indians affiliate.
Game Two of the Northern Division Championship Series is scheduled for Thursday night at 6:30 PM ET from Calvin Falwell Field at City Stadium in Lynchburg. Left-hander Luis Lugo (8-5, 4.04 ERA) will look to keep the season alive for the Thrillcats, while Hector Silvestre (0-0, 2.08) looks to play the spoiler for the Nationals.
Photo: Potomac Nationals Twitter (@pnats42)