Hillcats Blanked as Season on Brink of its End; Pelicans 7, Hillcats 0

Lynchburg’s bats were silenced again on Tuesday night as the Hillcats were blanked 7-0 by the visiting Myrtle Beach Pelicans in Game 3 of the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship.

Myrtle Beach used a pair of doubles from its first three batters to take an early 1-0 lead off of Lynchburg lefty Luis Lugo. Charcer Burks doubled to right and after a strikeout from Donnie Dewees, David Bote doubled to center to put the Pelicans on the board. He was erased at third by catcher Francisco Mejia to defuse the rally, and Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez grounded to short to end the inning.

Another extra base hit turned into a run for the Pelicans in the third as they expanded their lead to two. Bryant Flete tripled to right with one out and scored on a sacrifice fly from Burks to make it 2-0.

The Hillcats offense could not make use of the limited opportunities that they were given by Pelicans starter Trevor Clifton. Anthony Santander reached on an error with two outs in the first, Dorssys Paulino started the second with a single but was erased on a double play ball, Tyler Krieger singled with two outs in the third, and Santander doubled to lead off the fourth and went to third two outs later on a wild pitch, but like the other three chances for the Hillcats, none of the four base runners would score.

The score would remain close at 2-0 until the top of the sixth, when the Pelicans opened it up with three runs. Burks and Dewees singled to start the inning and both moved up with two outs on a ground out by Jimenez. Jared Robinson replaced Lugo on the mound, but with Ian Rice at the plate, he uncorked a wild pitch, allowing both Burks and Dewees to cross home as Mejia compounded the play with a throwing error. Rice would walk and come all the way around on a triple by Jeffrey Baez to give the Pelicans a 5-0 lead.

Myrtle Beach tacked on two more in the seventh as Erick Castillo singled but was forced out on a grounder from Flete. Burks was hit by a pitch and another wild pitch from Robinson allowed the runners to advance. Dewees lifted a sacrifice fly to left to score a run and Bote doubled off of reliever Jon Fitzsimmons to score Burks with the seventh and final run of the contest.

The Hillcats had some chances in the late innings, but ultimately could not find the plate. Yu-Cheng Chang singled with two outs in the seventh, but was stranded on a strikeout by Connor Marabell against reliever Tommy Nance. Pinch-hitter Claudio Bautista tripled with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but a second pinch-hitter, Sicnarf Loopstok, struck out swinging. In the ninth against Scott Effross, Paulino walked with two outs and Chang reached on an error. Both moved up on defensive indifference before Marabell grounded to Bote at first to end the game.

The Hillcats mustered just five hits on the night. They left seven on base and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Bobby Bradley and Taylor Murphy each struck out three times a piece, accounting for more than half of Lynchburg’s eleven strikeouts on the night. The Pelicans had ten hits in addition to a pair of walks and were 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position while wasting just three runners on base.

The top three hitters (Burks, Dewees, Bote) in the Pelicans lineup combined to go 6-for-10 at the plate with three doubles, four RBI, and four runs scored. Baez added two hits, including his triple, and one run batted in. Bote is now 13-for-22 (.591) with nine RBI in six playoff games for the Cubs this postseason.

Clifton, the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Year, improved to 2-0 in the postseason with a 0.75 ERA. He worked six shutout innings, giving up three hits and no walks while striking out five. Lugo got the L for Lynchburg, pitching five and two-thirds innings while allowing four runs on seven hits with a walk and six strikeouts. Robinson was charged with three runs on two hits with a walk in an inning of work.

Game Four of the series is scheduled for 6:30 PM ET on Wednesday night from Calvin Falwell Field at City Stadium in Lynchburg. Hillcats’ 22-year-old right-hander Matt Esparza (10-10, 3.36 ERA in 27 games at Single-A and High-A) will take the mound with Lynchburg’s season on the line, needing a win to force a Game 5. Twenty-three-year-old right-hander Preston Morrison (12-4, 2.11 ERA in 23 games at Single-A and High-A) will oppose for a Pelicans club looking to clinch the title.

Game 5, if necessary, is scheduled for 6:30 PM ET on Thursday from Lynchburg, with lefty Sean Brady facing righty Duane Underwood Jr.

Photo: Bobby Stevens/MiLB.com

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