With two on and nobody out in the top of the 12th inning, an error by Myrtle Beach allowed the go-ahead run to score for Lynchburg and the Hillcats held on in the bottom half of the frame to claim a 4-3 victory in the Mills Cup Championship Series opener on Saturday night.
The Hillcats never trailed, but let the Pelicans back into the game several times throughout the night before clinching the contest for good in extras
Lynchburg took a 1-0 lead in the second against Myrtle Beach starter Erick Leal. Three straight singles from Yu-Cheng Chang, Connor Marabell, and Yonathan Mendoza pushed Chang across with the first run of the game. Those names would all come up big much later on in the night.
The Hillcats added another in the third. Francisco Mejia singled on a grounder to third before Leal struck out Anthony Santander and Bobby Bradley. Mejia stole second on the latter strikeout, which came up big as Dorssys Paulino singled to center and Mejia scored to make it a 2-0 Lynchburg lead.
The Pelicans had struggled to do anything off of Thomas Pannone for much of the first half of the night. Donnie Dewees walked in the first but was picked off by Mejia. Andrew Ely doubled with two outs in the second but was stranded. David Bote doubled to left with one out in the fourth and made it to third on a bad pickoff attempt from Pannone, but was stranded after a walk and a line out. Two more reached in the fifth on a single and hit by pitch with one out, but Charcer Burks struck out swinging and a runner at first was again picked off by Mejia.
In the sixth, Myrtle Beach finally damaged Pannone after having him on the hook the previous two innings. Dewees doubled and went to third on a single from Bote. Ian Rice singled to center to get the Pelicans on the board and Jeffrey Baez reached safely on a bunt to the pitcher to load the bases. Ely took advantage, lifting a sinking liner to left to score Bote, but Rice was thrown out at second for a double play. The Hillcats also tagged the bag at third, not believing Bote had tagged up properly, but the ruling on the field was upheld. Jared Robinson entered for Mark Budzinski from the bullpen and struck out Jesse Hodges looking to end the threat with the score tied at 2-2.
Eighteen Hillcats went down in order after Mejia’s one-out single in the fifth until Santander homered to right-center in the top of the eleventh off of Scott Effross. Reliever Jon Fitzsimmons could not hold the lead in the bottom half for Lynchburg, walking Burks before a sacrifice bunt moved him to second. Bote singled to center to score Burks, but Bote was erased trying to stretch his hit to two. Rice flied to right, but the game was tied at three heading to the 12th.
James Pugliese replaced Effross and allowed a single to Chang. Marabell walked and Mendoza dropped down a sacrifice bunt. The throw from the third baseman Hodges to retire him hit him and rolled away, allowing Chang to score the go-ahead run on the error. Pugliese avoided further harm with a strikeout and a double play grounder. Fitsimmons closed the door in his Hillcats debut for the victory in the bottom half, getting a fly out from Baez, a grounder back to the mound from Ely, and a strikeout of Hodges to end it.
Mejia had three singles in five trips for the Hillcats in the victory. Chang had a pair of singles and scored two of the four Lynchburg runs on the night. Santander, Tyler Krieger, and Taylor Murphy each struck out three times. Bote is now 9-for-14 in the postseason for Myrtle Beach.
Pannone went five and two-thirds innings for the Hillcats, giving up two runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Fitzsimmons was hit with a blown save, but the 24-year-old earned the win in his High-A debut.
Game Two of the best-of-five championship series is scheduled for 6:05 PM ET from TicketReturn.com Field in Myrtle Beach on Sunday. Right-hander Brock Hartson (9-6, 3.20 ERA) will go for the Hillcats, while 22-year-old right-hander Jeremy Null (5-6, 4.20) will pitch for the Pelicans. Myrtle Beach will receive Cubs’ 19-year-old top prospect Eloy Jimenez from Class-A South Bend in time for the game.