Bradley’s Walk-Off Single in 14th Staves Off Elimination; Hillcats 6, Nationals 5

Staring down elimination from the Carolina League playoffs, Lynchburg needed extra innings to extend its season at least one more day as Bobby Bradley’s 14th inning single to right with the bases loaded and two down gave the Hillcats a 6-5 walk-off victory in a dramatic postseason win over the Potomac Nationals.

P-Nats reliever Neil Holland was on for his second inning of work to start the 14th when Yonathan Mendoza singled to left to start the inning. Taylor Murphy dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runner up before Tyler Krieger grounded sharply off of Holland, who lost his glove but was able to recover the ball in time to throw Krieger out at first for the second out. With the winning run standing at third base, the Nationals elected to intentionally walk both Francisco Mejia and Anthony Santander, setting up force plays around the diamond, but bringing up the Carolina League MVP Bradley. As his award might suggest of his abilities, he came through with the clutch liner into right field, scoring Mendoza with the winning run.

The Hillcats and Nationals are now tied 1-1 in their best-of-three series. The teams will meet Friday night at 6:30 PM from Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg, where Sean Brady (12-6, 4.95 ERA) will take on Potomac left-hander Matt Crownover (4-4, 4.28).

The winner will advance to the Mills Cup Championship. The best-of-five matchup will start with two games on the road for the Northern Division Championship Series winner, with the final three to be played at either Lynchburg or Potomac this season.

Potomac held an early lead in the third inning, when they touched the scoreboard once off of Lynchburg starter Luis Lugo. D.K. Carey singled, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and after a walk by Austin Davidson, came in to score on a single to center by Kelvin Gutierrez. The southpaw Lugo intentionally walked Raudy Read to load the bases, then struck out Osvaldo Abreu and Drew Vettleson swinging to end the inning.

The “Thrillcats” struck right back in the home half of the third with some clutch two-out magic. Against Potomac starter Hector Silvestre, Krieger doubled to right, then enjoyed an easy ride around the rest of the bases as Mejia homered, giving the Hillcats a 2-1 lead.

With two down in the fourth, the Hillcats extended their lead as Yu-Cheng Chang doubled and scored on a single from Connor Marabell to make it a 3-1 game.

The Nationals tied the game against Hillcats reliever Billy Strode in the sixth. Bryan Mejia singled with one out and scored on a double from Matthew Page. Carey grounded him to third and an error at third by Claudio Bautista on a grounder from Victor Robles tied the game as Page scored on the play to make it 3-3.

Lynchburg made a positive habit of scoring each time Potomac did, and such was the case in the bottom of the sixth as they took the lead. Chang doubled with one out off of reliever Dakota Bacus. He moved to third on a single off of the pitcher by Marabell. A sacrifice fly from Bautista made up for his error in the top half, as Chang scored to make it a 4-3 Lynchburg lead.

That score held until the top of the eighth, when a two-out walk would prove costly. Carey ended Mitch Brown’s night with a free pass, then sprinted all the way around the bases on a double to left by Robles off of reliever Trevor Frank to knot the game at four.

Lynchburg put runners on base in the eighth, tenth, and eleventh innings, but could not get any of them past second base. Potomac put two on in the tenth and would get two in scoring position in the eleventh, but pitcher Matt Whitehouse got out of both jams.

That would not be the case in his third inning of work in the 12th. Potomac’s Mejia doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Carey lifted a sacrifice fly to center, deep enough to score Mejia to give Potomac their first lead since the third inning.

With the pressure on, Lynchburg came through against reliever Ryan Brinley. Dorssys Paulino singled and was lifted for pinch-runner Willi Castro. He moved to second on a sacrifice from Chang. A lineout from Marabell put the Hillcats down to the final out of their season, but Mendoza delivered a gift double to center as three P-Nats players collided attempting to reel in the ball and missed, allowing Castro to score the tying run from second. A walk by Murphy and Krieger loaded the bases for the switch-hitting catcher Mejia, who fouled out to send the game to the 13th.

The top half of that inning ended with some drama as Justin Garcia allowed a single to Abreu with two outs. The next batter, Vettleson, doubled to right, but a strong throw from Murphy to cutoff man Krieger to catcher Mejia nailed Abreu at the plate trying to score to end the inning.

Garcia gave up a leadoff double in the top of the next inning, but that runner was erased at third on a fielder’s choice to Chang. After a single from Robles, Garcia got the final out on a strikeout of Davidson, setting the stage for Bradley’s late heroics.

The two teams combined to leave 38 runners on base and hit seven sacrifices. The Nationals were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, while the Hillcats were 6-for-17. Santander was the lone Hillcat to play the whole game and go hitless, but he was intentionally walked twice. Chang had four hits, including a pair of doubles. Bradley struck out four times in eight at bats, but delivered the at bat that mattered the most for the Hillcats and their fans.


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