Lynchburg rallies late for 8-6 win

lynchburg hillcatsTrailing 5-1 with two innings to go, Lynchburg surged ahead with five runs in the eighth and added two more in the ninth to claim an 8-6 victory and spoil the Frederick Keys’ home opener at Nymeo Field Thursday night.

Lynchburg used a barrage of doubles in the final two frames to stage its comeback win. However, it was plate discipline that initiated the late rally. Facing a 5-1 deficit in the eighth, three consecutive walks to Ivan Castillo, Greg Allen, and Claudio Bautista loaded the bases for the Hillcats. David Richardson entered from the Keys’ bullpen, and on his second pitch, Anthony Santander lined a double to right field to drive in two and cut the margin in half. Bobby Bradley followed with a two-bagger of his own to bring home Bautista and Santander and tie game, 5-5. The next batter, Yu-Cheng Chang singled Bradley to third, which set up a sacrifice fly by Mike Papi that gave the Hillcats a 6-5 lead.

In total, the first six batters of the eighth inning reached for the ‘Cats, and five of them scored to take the lead. However, Frederick answered with a run in the bottom of the eighth to knot the score again, 6-all entering the ninth.

Unfazed, Lynchburg rallied again with extra-base hits in the ninth. After Bautista was hit by a pitch with two outs, Santandersmashed a double over the head of the center fielder to score Bautista from first. An intentional walk to Bradley extended the inning for Chang, who also doubled to center field. Santander crossed home on the play, and the Hillcats used a perfect ninth from Cole Sulser to complete the 8-6 come-from-behind win.

Prior to the outburst at the end of the game, runs were at a premium early. The first three runs of the game required three different solo homers. Chang hit a solo home run, his second of the year, to stake Lynchburg to a 1-0 lead in the second frame. Frederick tied the game on a Josh Hart homer in the third and moved in front with a Jomar Reyes opposite field homer in the fourth.

Frederick finally ended that trend with a two-run double by Jonah Heim that led to a three-run sixth inning and stretched the margin to 5-1 in favor of the Keys.

Luis Lugo surrendered four runs on seven hits in five-plus innings, while Frederick’s starter, Matthew Grimes, limited Lynchuburg to one run and six hits in six frames. Neither starter factored into the decision. Cole Sulser (1-0) earned his first victory since July 30, 2014 with four strikeouts in two innings after giving up the tying run in the eighth. Tanner Chleborad (0-1) suffered the loss after both ninth-inning runs scored against him.

Lynchburg ended its drought with runners in scoring position…The Hillcats had been 13-for-70 (.186) in that situation to open the year, but Lynchburg went 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position, which included two-out RBIs from Anthony Santander and Yu-Cheng Chang…Five doubles and six total extra-base hits both marked season-highs for the Hillcats in a game this year…Sulsermissed the 2015 season with a right elbow strain, so his last victory was in a Carolina Mudcats uniform when they were the Advanced-A affiliate for the Cleveland Indians two years ago.

Lynchburg returns to Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m. Kevin Gausman and Brian Matusz are both expected to pitch for Frederick on MLB rehab assignments as they work their way back from injuries. Julian Merryweather (1-0, 0.00) will start for the Hillcats. Fans can listen to the action on 93.3 FM and 1320 AM as well as, beginning with the Hillcats On-Deck Show at 6:15 p.m.

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