By Michael Marzzacco
Potomac (High-A Carolina League): Down to their final strike in a 5-4 game in the bottom of the 12th inning, the Lynchburg Hillcats (85-57) pulled off a miracle, as 3B Yonathan Mendoza popped one into the triangle in shallow right-centerfield, 2B Bryan Mejia, RF Drew Vettleson, and CF Victor Robles all collided, the ball rolled to the right field grass, and DH Willi Castro scored. That tied the game at five. In the bottom of the 14th inning, the Potomac Nationals (74-66) issued consecutive intentional walks with two outs, which loaded the bases for 1B Bobby Bradley. The Carolina League MVP hit a walk-off single to right field, as the Hillcats stayed alive in the NDCS with a 6-5 win.
Much like Wednesday night’s series opener, the two teams went rather quietly in the first two frames. LHP Luis Lugo (ND) worked around a single, a walk, and an error over the first two innings, while Potomac LHP Hector Silvestre (ND) operated around three singles over the first two frames.
The P-Nats broke the scoreless tie with a run against Lugo in the third inning, though Lynchburg answered immediately against Silvestre. In the top of the frame, LF Dale Carey led off with a single. After Robles was successful on a sacrifice bunt, DH Austin Davidson walked. With two on, 3B Kelvin Gutierrez gave Potomac the lead with an RBI single, though the P-Nats left the bases loaded.
Down 1-0 early for the second straight night, the Hillcats had back-to-back two-out extra base hits off of Silvestre in the bottom of the third. 2B Tyler Krieger doubled to right field, while C Francisco Mejia hit an opposite field two-run home run, Lynchburg’s first runs of the series. The Hillcats added a run fourth inning with another pair of two-out hits, as SS Yu-Cheng Chang doubled and then scored on a base hit by CF Connor Marabell. Lynchburg led 3-1 after four innings.
Potomac tied it up in the sixth inning, only to see Lynchburg take the lead right back. LHP Billy Strode replaced Lugo to start the frame and gave up a one-out single to Mejia. 1B Matt Page made it a one-run game with an RBI double, and the Potomac first baseman scored the game-tying run on a fielding error by 3B Claudio Bautista. Lynchburg came right back and tagged RHP Dakota Bacus for a run in the sixth inning. Entering for Silvestre, Bacus got the first out of the frame, but then gave up a double to Chang and a single to Marabell. With men on the corners, Bautista’s sacrifice fly put the Hillcats on top 4-3.
Four outs away from a victory, the Hillcats turned the ball over to their closer with the tying run on base and two outs in the eighth inning. RHP Trevor Frank immediately gave up a game-tying RBI double to Robles, the first of three hits on the night for the Potomac centerfielder. Frank stranded Robles at second base and subsequently worked a perfect ninth frame.
RHP Gilberto Mendez pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Potomac, while LHP Justin Thomasworked three scoreless frames out of the bullpen. Thomas stranded the winning run at first base in the ninth inning, the same in the 10th frame, and the winning run at second base in the 11th.
Potomac threatened in each of the five extra innings but managed just one run despite seven hits and 11 base runners from the 10th inning and beyond. The P-Nats got a two-out walk and a single in the 10th but left men at first and second base, while Potomac left men at second and third base in the 11thinning.
With the game knotted at four, Mejia led off the 12th inning with a double against LHP Matt Whitehouse. In his third inning of work, Whitehouse failed to keep Potomac off the scoreboard. 1B David Masters, who had entered as a pinch runner for Page in the 10th inning, dropped down a successful sacrifice bunt, which moved Mejia to third base. Carey put Potomac three outs away from a series victory with a go-ahead sacrifice fly to centerfield, as the P-Nats took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 12th.
As the fifth pitcher of the game for Potomac, RHP Ryan Brinley came on in search of the save with a one run lead in the bottom of the 12th. DH Dorssys Paulino led off the frame with a single, while Castro replaced him at first base. Chang’s successful sacrifice bunt moved the tying runner into scoring position with one out. After Brinley got Marabell to fly out to deep left field, Mendoza fell behind in the count 1-2. A strike away from defeat, Mendoza popped it up to shallow right field, while three different P-Nats were unable to come up with it. Castro scored the game-tying run on what was a double for Mendoza.
The P-Nats nearly took the lead in the top of the 13th inning with a two-out rally against RHP Justin Garcia (W, 3-0). SS Osvaldo Abreu singled, but the shortstop was thrown out at the plate on a double hit by Vettleson. The relay went from RF Taylor Murphy to Krieger to Mejia, as Abreu barreled threw Mejia at the plate, but the Lynchburg catcher maintained possession for the out. In the 14th frame, Mejia led off with a double, but after Masters flied out, the Potomac second baseman was thrown out at third base on a ground ball hit to Chang by Carey. Robles followed with a single, but Garcia struck out Davidson in what proved to be Potomac’s final at-bat.
In the bottom of the 14th inning for the second time in less than a week, the P-Nats kept RHP Neil Holland (L, 1-5) on the hill for his second inning of work. Mendoza led off the frame with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Murphy. Krieger grounded out to Holland, but Murphy got to third base. The P-Nats intentionally walked Mejia and Santander, which loaded the bases for Bradley, who came through with the game winning hit. Bradley’s walk-off single sets up a winner take all game three at Calvin Falwell Field Friday night.
The victory was Lynchburg’s first postseason win in more than four years, and their first win over the Potomac franchise in the playoffs since 1991. In the loss, Potomac went 1-15 with RISP and left 18 men on base. The Hillcats left 20 men on base and went 6-17 with RISP in the win. Santander (0-6) and Bautista (0-2) were the only Lynchburg starters without a hit, while Davidson (0-7) and Read (0-5) were the only Potomac starters without a hit. 11 different players between the two teams had multiple hits.
In a win or go home decisive game three Friday night, Potomac will turn to LHP Matthew Crownover (4-4, 4.28). The southpaw has four consecutive starts in which he has allowed no more than three earned runs and allowed just two earned runs over five innings in his only start vs. Lynchburg, less than two weeks ago. For the Hillcats, LHP Sean Brady (12-6, 4.95) is scheduled to take the hill. Brady has allowed at least three earned runs in six straight starts, and is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts vs. Potomac this season. First pitch of the NDCS finale is set for 6:30pm.
The Potomac Nationals Baseball Network will carry live coverage beginning with the “P-Nats Leadoff Show” at 6:15pm. P-Nats Gameday Audio on the Potomac Nationals Baseball Network is available atwww.potomacnationals.com or via the TuneIn Radio App.
Hagerstown (Low-A South Atlantic): OFF. Suns host Lakewood at Municipal Stadium at 7:05 for game two. The Suns’ season is on the line after dropping the opener.