They may have come away on the losing side of the final score, but the three members of the Lynchburg Hillcats selected to participate in the Carolina League’s All-Star Game on Tuesday chipped in with solid individual performances.
Outfielder Conner Capel, starting pitcher Sam Hentges, and reliever Dalbert Siri made the three-hour trek south to Five County Stadium in Zebulon, North Carolina, for this week’s battle between the Northern and Southern Divisions of the Carolina League.
It has been a tough season so far for the Hillcats, the Indians’ High-A affiliate, as Lynchburg finished last in the Northern Division with a 29-38 record in first half play, eight games behind the division winning Potomac Nationals. The Hillcats roster has been in a state of flux and the starting lineup lacks the pop that it has had in recent years, when some of the Cleveland organization’s top prospects (names like Bobby Bradley and Francisco Mejia) helped compose the roster.
The three Hillcats got an opportunity to contribute in the 2018 Carolina League All-Star Classic presented by US Foods®, and all three left their marks on the game with impressive appearances.
Capel got the start in left field and slotted into the lineup in the seventh spot. His Northern Division teammates, the road team for the exhibition, kicked things off with a big first inning, putting up a three-spot on the Southern squad. A leadoff double from Frederick’s Ryan McKenna, a walk by Salem’s Santiago Espinal, and a single by Potomac’s Carter Kieboom loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly from fellow P-Nat Jake Noll pushed across the first run and a groundout by the Keys’ Preston Palmeiro scored a second. Wilmington’s Kort Peterson singled home a third run, driving in Kieboom, before Capel flied to center.
Winston-Salem’s Joel Booker started the Southern Division’s first trip to the plate the right way, homering on the first pitch of the bottom of the first to make it a 3-1 game.
Both teams stranded runners in the second, keeping the game at 3-1. The Northern All-Stars left another man in the top of the third before Lynchburg’s Hentges took over on the mound in relief. He allowed a leadoff single to Booker, his second hit in as many trips, but a flyout and a pair of ground ball outs got Hentges out of the inning with the lead maintained at 3-1.
The North Stars tacked on another run in the fourth, but it could have been more. After a groundout to start the inning against Down East’s Edgar Arredondo, Capel drove a 1-1 pitch to center. He made it to second with no problem, but trying to push it to three, he would be gunned down on the relay throw, 8-6-5 on the putout at third for the second out. The next batter, Potomac’s Tres Barrera, homered to right, making it a 4-1 game.
Siri replaced his teammate Hentges on the mound in the bottom of the fourth and picked up where he left off. He got a liner to second for the first out and a pop to third on the next pitch for the second out before winning a seven-pitch battle with hometown Carolina’s Tucker Neuhaus, getting a swinging strikeout to end the inning and his outing.
The North had a quiet fifth before the South All-Stars took a chunk out of the deficit. Frederick’s Alex Wells, on in relief of Siri, allowed a leadoff single and the next batter reached on error to put runners on the corners. A stolen base put both runners in scoring position before Booker grounded home a run to make it 4-2. A second straight groundout, this one from the Wood Ducks’ Leody Taveras, made it a 4-3 game after five.
Capel would get his third at bat of the game with two outs in the sixth, grounding out to second to move Palmeiro to third. Barrera walked, but Salem’s Jerry Downs flied out to strand a pair, which would hurt all the worse as the Southern team put up four runs in the bottom of the frame. A groundout drove in the tying run after two singles started the inning. A walk put runners on the corners with two men out before Buies Creek’s Ronnie Dawson gave the South the lead on a ground-rule double. A single from Booker, his third hit of the night, scored two more runs, giving his team a 7-4 lead.
The Northern All-Stars stranded a pair in the top of the seventh, but got through the bottom half unscathed. They would fight back in the eighth, however, and Capel was at the heart of it as he knocked home Peterson after his leadoff double with a single to right to make it 7-5. Capel would be stranded at first, however, as the next three were retired in order by the Dash’s Matt Foster.
A 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth left the North with just three outs to try to tie the game. Against Myrtle Beach’s Tyler Peyton, Espinal lined to right. Kieboom made it interesting with a homer to left-center to cut the deficit to one run, but the Blue Rocks’ D.J. Burt popped out to the catcher and Palmeiro grounded to first to end it against Down East’s C.D. Pelham.
Capel went 2-for-4 on the day with a single, a double, and one run batted in in the first All-Star Game appearance of his professional career. Hentges, also playing in his first Midsummer Classic, allowed a hit in one inning of work. Siri, who was an All-Star previously last season while playing for the Class-A Lake County Captains, worked a perfect fourth inning with a strikeout.
The Dash’s Booker, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBI, was named the BUSH’S® All-Star MVP.
The jerseys worn during the All-Star Classic by the Carolina League All-Stars will be autographed and placed up for auction online at auctions.carolinamudcats.com. All proceeds from the auction will go to The Miracle League of the Triangle.
Carolina League action resumes on Thursday night, as a full slate of games will fill out the schedule. The Hillcats will host the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in a 6:30 PM ET start, with Eli Morgan (2-2, 3.18 ERA) set to take the bump to kick off the second half.