Heartbreak for Potomac Nationals in 2-1 Mills Cup Championship Game loss
In heartbreaking fashion, the Potomac Nationals (0-1) fell 2-1 to the Buies Creek Astros (1-0) in a hurricane-shortened one-game Mills Cup Championship matchup on Tuesday night. Potomac took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning and came within four outs of a championship, but a two-out solo home run from 1B Jake Adams tied the game, while a sacrifice fly from SS Jonathan Arauz in the bottom of the 11th inning earned the Astros a Mills Cup Championship.
With what was scheduled to be a best-of-five series between Buies Creek and Potomac shortened to one game due to the incoming hurricane, the two teams squared off in a one-game playoff at Jim Perry Stadium. Both sides got great starting pitching, as RHP Joan Baez (ND) allowed just three hits and struck out six over 4.2 innings of shutout baseball for Potomac, while Astros RHP Bryan Abreu (ND) struck out five over four innings of one-hit baseball in his Carolina League debut.
Potomac struck first, as RHP Jose Hernandez, the original Astros’ game two starter, walked 2B Andruw Monasterio with one out in the top of the fifth inning, and then gave up an RBI double to CF Nick Banks. Banks’ eighth RBI of the postseason gave Potomac a 1-0 lead, but it was the lone run scored by Potomac in the game.
Baez departed for RHP Steven Fuentes with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning. Behind in the count, Fuentes got RF Corey Julks to ground out and the frame. The Astros went 0-8 with RISP in the victory and left 11 runners on base.
Fuentes pitched two scoreless innings, but departed with a runner on and two outs in the seventh frame. LHP Taylor Guilbeau pitched to just one batter, but walked LF J.J. Matijevic on four pitches, before Potomac turned to RHP Jeremy McKinney, who walked Julks, which loaded the bases. Ahead in the count 3-1, CF Bryan De La Cruz flied out to LF Telmito Agustin, as the Astros left the bases loaded for the second time in three innings.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, McKinney surrendered a towering home run to Adams, which went over the left field foul pole. Adams’ solo blast tied the game and proved pivotal, as the Astros went down in order against LHP Hayden Howard in the ninth inning. Howard also worked a perfect 10th frame.
RHP Enoli Paredes cruised through the eighth inning out of the Buies Creek bullpen, but gave Potomac an opportunity to retake the lead in the ninth frame. SS Luis Garcia led off the inning with a single, while 3B Ian Sagdal drew a walk. C Tres Barrera executed a sacrifice bunt, which put two men in scoring position with just one out. The Astros intentionally walked 1B Aldrem Corredor, which loaded the bases. Monasterio, who scored the only run of the game for Potomac and also picked up a double, took a called third strike, while Paredes escaped the jam, as he got Banks to pop out to 2B Osvaldo Duarte.
In the 11th inning against RHP Colin McKee (W, 1-0), Sagdal doubled with one out, while Corredor drew his second intentional walk of the night. With another chance to give Potomac the lead, Monasterio swung through strike three. McKee struck out four over two innings in the win. Potomac went 0-10 with RISP and left eight men on in the loss.
With the game deadlocked at 1-1 after 10.5 innings, the P-Nats turned to RHP Carlos Acevedo (L, 0-1) as their sixth pitcher of the game. C Chuckie Robinson led off the inning with a weak ground ball single to third base, while Adams followed with a single to left field. 3B Cody Bohanek executed a sacrifice bunt on a 3-2 pitch from Acevedo, which put the winning run on third base with one out. Arauz, who entered the inning hitless in four at-bats in the game, hit a fly ball to Banks, who’s throw to the plate was late, as Robinson scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly.
While short of a sixth Mills Cup Championship, Potomac finished the season with the club’s 10th Carolina League Northern Division Championship in franchise history. Potomac finished the year at 77-65 overall, 39-30 at Northwest Federal Field, and 38-35 on the road. The P-Nats won the first half in the Northern Division, finished second behind the Lynchburg Hillcats in the second half, and defeated the Hillcats in five games in the Northern Division Championship Series.