Lynchburg hurler no-hits Salem to complete sweep
History was made at Calvin Falwell Field tonight in a doubleheader sweep. Aaron Northcraft threw his first professional no-hitter, while fanning a career-high 10 in a 3-0 win in game two. Game one was highlighted by an 11 inning marathon that ended with Matt Weaver laying down a squeeze bunt to score Mycal Jones in a walk-off 4-3 win.
It wasn’t a pretty first inning for Chris Masters, but it was effective. The Hillcats’ pitcher got off to a rough start as Shannon Wilkerson doubled to start the game. With Heiker Meneses at the plate, Wilkerson broke for third and a perfect throw from catcher, Braeden Schlehuber, caught Wilkerson for the first time this season. He was 21-21 in stolen base attempts before that play. Meneses would reach second after a throwing error on shortstop Nick Ahmed went into the stands. Like Wilkerson, Meneses broke for third. And like Wilkerson, Meneses was gunned down by Schlehuber. Masters would finish off the lineup by fanning Brandon Jacobs two batters later.
Red Sox starter, Keith Couch, didn’t get into as much trouble in the bottom of the first, but he did allow a double and a walk. However, neither would hurt him.
Masters ran into trouble in the top of the third. After Sean Coyle got robbed by a leaping play at the wall by left fielder Mycal Jones, Lucas LeBlanc earned an infield single. It was a diving stop on the play by Chris Garcia at first, but LeBlanc’s speed was too much and he beat the toss. One batter later, Wilkerson gave a Masters pitch a ride for the second time on the day. This time, it was a triple that scored LeBlanc to give Salem a 1-0 lead. The next batter was Meneses and he wasted no time hitting a pitch to right field. Wilkerson tagged and beat the David Rohm throw to make it 2-0.
It would take a few innings, but Lynchburg put runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth. The inning started with a Matt Lipka single and error on the Coyle throw at second. Lipka was awarded second when the ball went into the stands. It didn’t matter as Ahmed blasted a pitch to deep left that was nearly caught over the shoulder by LeBlanc in left field. Lipka trotted home and Ahmed raced to third to earn his third triple of the year. The lead was cut to 2-1 in favor of the Sox. Tommy La Stella would get his 41st RBI of the season one pitch later when he hit a deep fly ball to center that Ahmed was able to tag on. At 2-2, it looked like the ‘Cats had the momentum.
Salem would answer just a few minutes later in the top of the sixth. Two quick outs started the inning, but Jacobs hit a towering home run out to left to break the tie.
The league leader in saves, Mike Olmsted, would enter in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and retire Rohm.
New Hillcat, Cole McCurry would keep it a 3-2 game in the top of the seventh.
Olmsted would return for the bottom of the seventh and struggle. After fanning Matt Weaver, Lipka would get his third single of the day. Ahmed would follow with his third extra-base hit, a double, to put runners at second and third. La Stella would deliver the tying blow yet again with a fly ball out to left. LeBlanc made the play, but Lipka’s speed was too much on the tag-up. Lipka scored to tie it at 3-3. Adam Milligan had an opportunity to break the tie with Ahmed at second, but would go down swinging for the fourth time on the day. The blown save was the first of the season for Olmsted.
It was a quiet few in extra innings until the Hillcats woke up in the bottom of the 10th inning. Ahmed singled, but was retired on a fielder’s choice after La Stella couldn’t get the sac bunt down. Schlehuber walked, then Garica ripped one out to left. LeBlanc gave chase and went full extension to rob Garcia of the game-winning hit.
Just an inning later Lynchburg would threaten again. It started with a Jones double off Charle Rosario. Then, David Rohm tried to lay down the sacrifice bunt, but couldn’t get it done on the first two pitches of the at-bat. Finally, with two strikes on him, Rohm got the bunt down to move Jones to third. It would be up to Matt Weaver to make a play for the ‘Cats. After getting a strike on him by chasing an outside breaker, Weaver worked the count to 2-1. Then, with Rosario ready to deliver to the plate, Jones broke for home and Weaver laid down a perfect bunt. The squeeze worked and Lynchburg came away with a thrilling 4-3 win to start their second half.
Chasen Shreve (3-2) got the win for his perfect two-thirds of an inning worth of work. Rosario (2-1) picked up the loss. He went three and one-third innings, allowed four hits and the game-winning run. Rosario also walked and struck out one.
Game two featured history. It started with Aaron Northcraft dealing six whiffs through just three innings. The Hillcats would help out their pitcher by scoring in the bottom of third.
A two-out rally ensued when Chad Comer doubled to get it started. Matt Lipka followed with his fourth hit between the two games. Comer scored and the Hillcats took the 1-0 lead.
The ‘Cats would add another run when Tommy La Stella blasted his fifth homer of the season to lead off the bottom of the fourth and extend the lead to 2-0.
Northcraft would reach eight whiffs through five, when his offense would give him some more breathing room. Emerson Landoni was plunked to start the inning, then Lipka hit a rocket shot off new pitcher, Ryan Pressly, that went through Travis Shaw’s legs at first. Landoni took third on the error. Nick Ahmed was the next batter and hit a sharp grounder to Xander Bogaerts that got Lipka at second, but couldn’t get the speedy Ahmed. Landoni scored to make it 3-0.
Northcraft’s no-no might not have been if it was for two amazing plays in the hole by Ahmed to get the fleet-footed Shannon Wilkerson and the equally speedy Heiker Meneses. Both plays were made on the run, throwing across his body.
With the Hillcats faithful still in the stands, the top of the seventh began with people on edge. It was calmed when Brandon Jacobs went down swinging. That was whiff number nine, which tied a season-high. Bogaerts would battle Northcraft until a devastating slider sat Bogaerts down looking. The 10th strikeout of the night tied Northcraft’s career-high that he sent back on the 21st of July when he was with the Danville Braves. Finally, history was completed on a 0-1 count when Michael Almanzar hit a high chopper over to Landoni at second and he made the easy flip to Chris Garcia at first.
The Gatorade bath took place as the Hillcats rushed their teammate. It was the first no-hitter since 1995 for the ‘Cats and their first complete game, no-hitter in franchise history.
Northcraft’s historical day moved his season record to 7-4. He sat down 10 Red Sox in his seven innings, while walking two and hitting one. His counter-part, Scott Swinson (0-2), went four and one-third innings. He allowed three runs–two earned–on four hits. Swinson struck out five and walked two.