Five-Run Fifth Too Costly as Hillcats Fall to Pelicans; Pelicans 8, Hillcats 3

A five-run fifth inning by the Pelicans was too much for the Lynchburg Hillcats to overcome as Myrtle Beach evened up the Mills Cup Championship Series with an 8-3 win on Sunday night.

Three straight Hillcats hits to start the game put the club in position for an early lead against Pelicans starter Jeremy Null. Tyler Krieger, Francisco Mejia, and Anthony Santander each reached on grounders before Bobby Bradley grounded into a double play. Krieger scored to give Lynchburg a 1-0 lead, but the twin killing derailed the early threat.

Myrtle Beach tied it up in the home half of the first against Lynchburg’s Brock Hartson. Charcer Burks walked to start the frame and advanced to second on a passed ball by Mejia. Donnie Dewees sacrificed him to third and after a walk by David Bote, freshly called up 19-year-old prospect Eloy Jimenez grounded to third to tie the game on the out at first.

The Pelicans missed out on chances to score in the second and third innings, as Hartson left runners stranded on the corners in the second and another runner at second in the third after a single and wild pitch with two outs.

Lynchburg broke the tie in the fourth with three straight two-out hits to take the lead. Yu-Cheng Chang and Connor Marabell each singled to center before Yonathan Mendoza delivered an RBI-single to right to score Chang to make it a 2-1 game.

The ‘Cats added another in the fifth as Myrtle Beach went to its bullpen for reliever James Norwood. Krieger singled to center to start the inning. One out later, Santander walked. After a Bradley strikeout put the inning on the verge of ending, Dorssys Paulino singled to right, scoring Krieger to give Lynchburg a 3-1 lead.

Things fell apart quickly for Hartson in the fifth as he lasted just four batters. After a liner to center for the first out of the inning, Burks homered to left-center to cut the deficit to 3-2. Dewees singled and scored on a double by Bote to tie the game at three as Hillcats manager Mark Budzinski went to his bullpen for Leandro Linares. A walk to Jimenez put two on, but Bryant Flete grounded into a force at second for the second out. With runners on the corners, the Pelicans strung together three straight two-out hits. Jeffrey Baez singled home Bote. Andrew Ely singled to center, driving in Flete. Erick Castillo followed suit, plating Baez to cap the five-run inning while giving Myrtle Beach a 6-3 lead.

The Pelicans added two more in the bottom of the eighth as reliever Matt Whitehouse struggled. Castillo doubled and moved to third on a bunt single. A one-out walk by Dewees loaded the bases and Bote drove home a pair with a single to left to make it 8-3.

Lynchburg would get no closer than the three-run deficit after five, putting runners on in each of the final four innings on singles. Mendoza singled with one down in the sixth, but was stranded on a pair of strikeouts. Bradley singled with two outs in the seventh before a grounder ended the frame. Chang led off the eighth with a single, but got no further than second base. Santander singled with two down in the ninth, but was caught stealing to end the game.

The Hillcats were 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine on the night. Eight of the nine players in the lineup reached base safely with a hit. Krieger, Santander, Chang, Marabell, and Mendoza all had two hits each.

The Pelicans were 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base. Bote drove in three with a single and double and is now 11-for-18 in the Carolina League playoffs with seven RBI in his first five games. Dewees, Baez, Castillo, and Jesse Hodges also had two hits each as eight of the nine players in the Myrtle Beach lineup hit safely on the night.

With the series tied 1-1, the action returns to City Stadium in Lynchburg for the final three games, as necessary, beginning on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 PM ET, with gates set to open at 5:30 for those purchasing the $5 tickets for the event.

Twenty-two-year-old left-hander Luis Lugo (8-5, 4.04 ERA in 26 starts) will start for the Hillcats in Game 3 against the Pelicans’ 21-year-old right-hander Trevor Clifton (7-7, 2.72 ERA in 23 starts).

Photo: Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

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