Lynchburg Hillcats clinch spot in the 2022 Carolina League postseason
The Lynchburg Hillcats (35-31) swept a Thursday doubleheader against the Delmarva Shorebirds (21-44) in dramatic fashion to win the first half crown in the Carolina League North.
Entering the day, four teams were within one game of first place in the Carolina League North. Through all the tiebreaker scenarios, the only way for the Hillcats to finish first would be to win both of their games today. Luckily, they had two of their best pitchers on the mound for both games, Will Dion and Jack Leftwich respectively.
In game one, the Hillcats received an excellent outing from Dion, where he would go six innings, only allowing two unearned runs. He would combine that with eight strikeouts when he left the game before the final inning. However, he finished the sixth without the lead.
The Hillcats had scored one run in the fourth on a Dayan Frias RBI single to right field that scored Will Bartlett. Otherwise, they had been held at bay. The Shorebirds were able to score two runs in the fifth on a single from Noelberth Romero after an error kept the inning alive.
However, in the top of the seventh, the Hillcats would find themselves down to their final strike several times, but clutch base hits from Joe Donovan and Luis Durango kept the dream alive. Then, a softly hit ground ball to short resulted in an error that allowed Durango to score all the way from second to give the Hillcats the lead, 3-2.
Elvis Jerez would enter for the final frame and worked out of trouble to win game one and have a chance to clinch in game two. For Jerez, he is now 8/8 on saves this season.
Game two was much of the same, as the Hillcats received arguably one of the best pitching performances in a clinching game in recent memory. Jack Leftwich would pitch a complete game three-hitter, not allowing a hit or a run after the first inning.
Lynchburg fell behind early after a fielder’s choice in the first gave Delmarva the one run lead. The Hillcats would tie the ballgame up in the second on a triple from Victor Planchart that would score Isaiah Greene.
From there, the game would be a pitcher’s duel up until the top of the seventh inning. With the score tied, the Hillcats would rattle off four runs in the final frame to take the commanding 5-1 lead.
Yordys Valdes would open the scoring in the inning with a line drive single to right that scored Luis Durango. After Jake Fox was hit by a pitch, Jorge Burgos would drive a triple into the right field gap that scored both Valdes and Fox. Burgos would score later in the inning on a wild pitch.
With the lead comfortably in hand, Jack Leftwich would return to the mound in the bottom half of the inning and retire the side to begin the celebration for the Lynchburg Hillcats.
For Leftwich, he would finish his stat line by striking out nine and dropping his ERA to below two on the season.
The first half of the season has now come to a close, with records resetting back to 0-0 on Friday. However, the Hillcats will be able to play the rest of the season knowing their spot in the postseason is secured. The regular season will wrap up on Sept. 11, with the postseason immediately to follow.
Information regarding postseason tickets will be announced as we move closer to that date.