With two out, the bases empty, and Kevin Ahrens behind in the count, 1-2, the clean-up hitter crushed a hanging breaking ball deep to left-center field for his second home run of the season, giving Lynchburg a 7-6 victory over the Potomac Nationals at Calvin Falwell Field Friday night.
In a wild 12-inning battle that featured two teams tied for first place, runners falling face-first between the bases, baseballs being thrown into the outfield, Tripp Keister getting ejected and Tyler Tewell going after a foul ball and flipping over the dugout railing into the arms of his teammates, Ahrens finally brought an end to the madness with his first hit of the game.
Hillcats faithful have become accustomed to seeing their team win in thrilling fashion this season. Of Lynchburg’s (9-6) four home victories in 2014, three of them have come in the team’s final at-bat, including two in extra innings. However, this victory proved to be the most eventful, both in the way it ended and in the way the game developed.
Lynchburg jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning, as Jose Peraza and Kyle Wren led off with back-to-back singles. A double-steal by the top two basestealers in the carolina league forced an errant throw by Pedro Severino into left field, and Peraza jogged home for the first run of the contest. Josh Elander then picked up an RBI on a groundout to third.
The second inning began with consecutive singles as well, but this time there were three. Tyler Tewell and Will Skinner both singled, which set up a sacrifice opportunity for Daniel Castro. Castro laid down a beautiful bunt down the third baseline and raced to first. Confusion on the Nationals’ defense resulted in nobody covering first base, which allowed Castro to run out the bunt for a base hit, but it also caused third baseman Oscar Tejeda to throw the ball into right field because he anticipated someone being on the bag.
Tejeda’s throwing error gave the Hillcats two runs on the play with Tewell and Skinner both scoring. Castro advanced to third on the miscue and scored one batter later on an RBI single by Alejandro Piloto. The three-run second frame put Lynchburg in front by a 5-0 count, but Potomac responded with a big fourth inning.
Khayyan Norfork singled to open the fourth inning, and Tejeda followed with a line-drive home run to left field to bring the Nationals within three, 5-2. Kevin Keyes singled, and Brandon Miller walked. Two batters later, Stephen Perez reached on a fielder’s choice in which everybody was safe on an infield grounder. Severino followed with a two-run single, and Will Piwnica-Worms hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score, 5-5.
Potomac took the lead in the fifth with a solo home run by Keyes, but Lynchburg tied it quickly with a sacrifice fly by Peraza in the sixth.
After six innings, the two teams tied for the Northern Division lead had combined for 12 runs and 15 hits, but a pitching duel ensued once the game was turned over to the bullpens.
In fact, after Keyes’ homer, Potomac only notched one hit over the final 7.2 innings. Zach Jadofsky struck out three in three innings of work. Nate Hyatt pitched perfect eighth and ninth frames that included four strikeouts. Brandon Cunniff (1-0) went the final three innings and struck out four to earn his first victory of the season. During that stretch, Potomac’s manager Tripp Keister was ejected after Brandon Miller was called out on strikes to begin the 11th.
Lynchburg’s offense did not fare much better after the sixth, only registering four hits until Ahrens stepped to the plate in the 12th. Ahrens now has two homers on the season with both of them being go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later. His 10 RBIs lead the Hillcats this season and rank in the top five of the carolina league.
Lynchburg and Potomac will return to action in game two of the four-game series Saturday at 6:05pm. It’s the 6th Annual Autism Awareness Night presented by Physicians Treatment Center. Two dollars of every ticket sold will go to Commonwealth Autism Services. Additionally, there will be a silent auction and 50/50 raffle during the game with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the organization. Gates open at 5pm. Fans who can’t make it to the game can tune in on 97.9 The Planet for the Hillcats On-Deck Show presented by Amtrak Virginia at 5:40 pm.