Mudcats fall to Hillcats in heartbreaker, 5-4
Carolina's rally fell just short, as they lost to Lynchburg in extra innings on Friday.
ZEBULON, NC —The Lynchburg Hillcats outlasted the Carolina Mudcats 5-4 in ten innings to claim Friday’s series finale.
Carolina fell behind early, but battled back to force extras before Will Skinner’s RBI single won it for Lynchburg in the top of the tenth.
An early miscue defensively put Merritt and the Mudcats in an early hole in the top of the first. After Blake Brown and Emerson Landoni opened the contest with back-to-back singles, Sean Godfrey sent what appeared to be a double-play ball to second.
But James Roberts took his eye off the chopper just briefly, allowing it past him and into center as Brown scored and Landoni took third. Merritt buckled down to strike out Kevin Ahrens and Jose Martinez, but Will Skinner’s two-out single to left plated Landoni as the Hillcats went up 2-0.
However, the Carolina second baseman didn’t take long to atone for the error, getting the Mudcats on the board in the bottom of the third with a solo homerun to left slicing the Hillcats lead in half at 2-1.
An inning later, the Mudcats managed the equalizer against Hillcats starter Daniel Watts. After Joe Sever earned a one-out walk, Eric Haase doubled to the gap in left center. Sever turned around third and headed home, but put on the breaks late and found himself stuck in a rundown. But a misfire sent the ball past Lynchburg third baseman Eric Garcia, allowing the Carolina first baseman to level the score at 2.
The tie would be short-lived, as Lynchburg managed to knock Merritt for his first earned run of the evening in the top of the fifth. Brown leadoff with a walk, then advanced to second on Landoni’s sacrifice bunt. Godfrey then followed with a single up the middle to make it 3-2.
Yet again, the Mudcats would bounce back. After Roberts grounded out to open the bottom of the fifth, Logan Vickput Watts and the Hillcats under pressure with a double to center. Yhoxian Medina then leveled things with a double of his own to right, as Vick came in to make it 3-3.
Leaving in a tie game, Merritt would have to settle for no decision in his final start of the regular season. Carolina’s ace allowed three runs, one of which earned, on eight hits in 6.0 innings. He walked one while striking out eight.
Manager Scooter Tucker praised his ace’s consistency, weathering the early storm and yet again, giving Carolina a chance to win.
“Another quality start from him, he’s been consistent for us all year and that’s all you can ask a pitcher to do,” reflected Tucker. “Every outing he gives us a chance to win, he’s been fantastic.”
Lynchburg would again push ahead in the top of the seventh. With one away, Josh Martin walked Brown, who got into scoring position by stealing second. After Landoni struck out looking, Godfrey put the Hillcats back in front, singling up the middle to make it 4-3.
But again the Mudcats answered. Vick earned a one out walk, forcing the Hillcats to turn to reliever Daniel Carela. Carela struggled to find the strike zone, walking Medina and Yandy Diaz to load the bases. Torsten Boss then brought the score level again, sending a sacrifice fly to left evening things at 4.
Josh Martin and Grant Sides then carried the deadlock into the bottom of the ninth, where Medina got the winning run aboard with a two-out walk. The shortstop then moved into scoring position on a wild pitch to Diaz. Diaz then sent a chopper to short, sending Medina into a sprint towards third. The shortstop reached third, but turned too widely and had to dive back towards the bag, colliding with Johan Camargo who dove in to apply the tag. Camargo’s momentum seemed to push Medina off the bag, prompting base umpire Travis Godec to call Medina out and send the game into extras despite protests from the Mudcats faithful.
After the game, Tucker said he was told Medina failed to touch the bag on his dive back.
With Sides back out for the top of the tenth, Landoni led off with a base hit to center before Godfrey went down swinging for the first out. Eric Garcia’s single to left then out men on the corners, with Garcia stealing second as Martinez struck out. Skinner then provided the big two-out hit, a hard-hit single to left as Landoni scored to make it 5-4 Lynchburg.
Sides (4-2, 2.67) took the loss, allowing the one earned run on three hits in 2.0 innings.
Carolina threatened in the bottom of the tenth, getting the tying run into scoring position thanks to Sever’s one-out double to deep center off Alex Wilson. But this would be as close as the Mudcats could get the potential equalizer, as Wilson forced Haase and Rodriguez to groundout preserving the 5-4 victory.
Friday was Carolina’s 46th contest decided by just one run, they are now 20-26 in games decided by the slimmest of margins.
Despite the loss, Tucker was proud of the resiliency his club showed in yet another nail biter: “They gave themselves another chance to win, another one-run game which there’s been a whole bunch of. They’ve fought hard.”
Carolina drops to 32-34 on the second half, but remain just a game out in the wildcard race with Salem falling to Fredrick Friday.
The Mudcats remain at Five County Stadium, with the Winston-Salem Dash coming to town for the final three games of the regular season.