RiverDogs 6, Hillcats 2
Much like it did all season long, Single-A Charleston dominated in the postseason en route to a second straight crown.
The RiverDogs completed a sweep of the Carolina League Championship Series with a convincing victory over the Lynchburg Hillcats at Bank of the James Stadium.
Charleston completed its championship run with a perfect 4-0 mark in the playoffs. The RiverDogs outscored their opponents 29-14, while only trailing for a single inning throughout the postseason. The club completed the regular season with a league-best 88-44 record and +174 run differential.
"I think this group as a whole, from Day 1 throughout the entirety of the season showed up to work every day, wanted to get better every day, stayed hungry and they were never content," RiverDogs skipper Blake Butera said. "So credit to them for wanting it that badly and wanting to be successful, and when you finish a season off this way, it's a surreal feeling." Full story »
RiverDogs 7, Hillcats 5
Early deficits proved to be nothing more than a minor nuisance for Charleston in the Carolina League Championship Series opener.
Despite falling behind twice, the RiverDogs came out swinging, using a four-run third inning to vault past Lynchburg, 7-5, in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Finals. Rays No. 3 prospect Carson Williams homered and No. 10 Willy Vasquez supplied the big blow, launching a three-run jack to put Charleston in front to stay.
After trading runs in the first and falling behind, 3-2, in the second, the RiverDogs opened things up in the ensuing frame. Vasquez capped the inning with his second postseason long ball, a 109-mph laser to center field. Charleston added an insurance run in the fifth and rode 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief from Roel Garcia III to the brink of a second consecutive championship.
The RiverDogs won the Low-A East crown in 2021 before moving onto the Carolina circuit this season.
Cleveland's No. 27 prospect Angel Genao had an RBI double and scored once for the Hillcats. Box score
Hillcats 3, Nationals 0
For the first time since 2017, Lynchburg will be returning to a league finals.
Behind a combined one-hit effort from three Hillcats hurlers, the Single-A Guardians affiliate outlasted the Nationals in Game 3 to claim a spot in the championship series. The last time Lynchburg had a taste of the crown was when they were named co-champions of the Carolina League with Down East five years ago.
The tone was set early on by Ryan Webb, who didn’t allow a hit while scattering three walks across his five innings of work. To help ease the pressure, a run-scoring single by Richard Paz in the second inning and a wild pitch in the fourth staked the Hillcats to an early 2-0 lead.
Sergio Morillo entered the game in relief of Webb and also did not allow a hit, thus carrying a no-hit bid into the eighth frame of the win-or-go-home contest. Though the feat would not come to pass, thanks to a Branden Boissiere single to lead off the eighth, Lynchburg reliever Zach Pettway didn’t allow another batter to reach base to close out the victory.
The Hillcats will battle last year's champions, the Charleston RiverDogs, for the league title. Box score
RiverDogs 10, Pelicans 6
Charleston's going to have a chance to go for a second consecutive title.
Willy Vasquez singled a career-high four times and scored twice to help the RiverDogs close out their semifinal series against Myrtle Beach at Pelicans Ballpark. Charleston completed a sweep of the best-of-3 series and will face Fredericksburg or Lynchburg in the Carolina League Finals. The team won the Low-A East crown in 2021 before Charleston moved onto the Carolina circuit this season.
The RiverDogs and Pelicans traded a pair of runs in the opening frame before the Rays affiliate jumped ahead for good during a five-run fourth. Vasquez, Tampa Bay's No. 10 prospect, ignited the two-out rally with his first single of the evening. No. 29 Rays prospect Ryan Spikes singled Vasquez home two batters later and Charleston was on its way.
A three-run rally in the eighth was again kicked off by Vasquez, who collected his third single and scored on Spikes' second RBI knock. Vasquez beat out an infield single in the ninth for his fourth hit.
Daiveyon Whittle earned the win in relief, allowing two hits and striking out one in 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Myrtle Beach did not go quietly, scoring four times in the ninth. No. 15 Cubs prospect Moises Ballesteros and Josue Huma connected on back-to-back homers and Haydn McGeary, who hit a two-run jack in the first, added an RBI single. Box score
Hillcats 5, Nationals 2
Knowing it was win or go home, Lynchburg left nothing to chance.
A four-run first inning keyed by Will Bartlett's bases-loaded double helped the Hillcats topple visiting Fredericksburg to even up the best-of-3 semifinals at 1-1.
Lynchburg loaded the bases on three consecutive walks to open the bottom of the first. After tallying its first run on a wild pitch, a fourth walk reloaded the bags for Bartlett, who pushed the lead to 4-0 with a double to right.
The offensive outburst was more than enough for Juan Zapata. The Hillcats starter allowed two runs on five hits over five frames, striking out four. Yeury Gervacio, Franco Aleman and Tyler Thornton combined for four hitless innings in relief.
No. 17 Nats prospect Trey Lipscomb tallied two hits and an RBI for Fredericksburg. Jarlin Susana started, battled his control and retired just one batter. The eighth-ranked Washington prospect was charged with four runs on four walks and one hit. Box score
Nationals 2, Hillcats 0
Jackson Rutledge looked every bit the No. 17 overall pick in the 2019 Draft in this one.
The 12th-ranked Nationals prospect turned in arguably the best outing of his career, scattering three hits and a walk while fanning six over eight frames to set the table for Single-A Fredericksburg's blanking of Lynchburg in Game 1 of the best-of-3 semifinals at Virginia Credit Union Stadium.
After yielding a bloop single to lead off the game, the right-hander locked in to retire the side on five pitches en route to setting down the next nine Hillcats batters in a row. The only jam Rutledge found himself in was in the fourth when he loaded the bases with one out, but the defense backed up its starter. Will Bartlett hit a hot shot to third that was scooped by Trey Lipscomb, who threw a strike to Sammy Infante at second to begin an around-the-horn double play to end the inning.
Infante carried that momentum into the bottom half of the frame when he broke the scoreless tie with a two-run double to left.
That's all the support Rutledge needed as he faced the minimum over his final four frames -- aided by another double play in the sixth. Marlon Perez tossed a perfect ninth, with a punchout, to pick up the save. Box score
RiverDogs 6, Pelicans 1
Behind a four-knock, three-RBI effort by Rays No. 19 prospect Junior Caminero and six strong innings from starter Andrew Gross, Charleston took Game 1 of the best-of-3 semifinals at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Ballpark.
Caminero laced a two-out double in the first inning before recording a trio of RBI singles.
Gross yielded one run on six hits and one walk while whiffing three over six frames.
Ryan Spikes, Tampa Bay's third-round pick (No. 100 overall), opened the scoring for the RiverDogs with a solo home run in the second.
Third-ranked Cubs prospect Kevin Alcantara (No. 90 overall) accounted for Myrtle Beach's offense on a two-hit night with a sixth-inning long ball. Box score »
How they got there
After jumping out to an early lead, Charleston needed a few extra innings to secure a second-half South Division title. Behind a two-homer, four-RBI performance from No. 19 Rays prospect Junior Caminero, the Tampa Bay affiliate defeated Columbia, 11-7, in an 11-inning thriller at Segra Park.
The reigning champions jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the opening inning and tacked on a fourth run in the following frame before the Fireflies answered back with two runs. The RiverDogs extended their lead to 5-2 and Columbia fought back to make the score 5-4 after a Gavin Cross triple and a Dayton Dooney dinger.
Caminero launched his first homer of the night in the top of the ninth to give Charleston some insurance, but Columbia wasn’t going down without a fight. Down to their last out in the bottom of the ninth, Omar Hernandez singled and Cross -- the Royals’ top prospect -- made them pay with a game-tying, two-run jack to keep the Fireflies alive.
Both teams drove in the free runner in the 10th, but Caminero led off the 11th with his second homer of the night to give the RiverDogs a 9-7 lead. Willy Vasquez and Brock Jones both launched solo jacks to cap a four-run frame to propel Charleston to victory. The club earned its 85th win of the season and improved to 39-23 in the second half.
With a magic number of two entering action, the FredNats took care of their own business while getting the help they needed to punch their ticket to the postseason with a second-half North Division crown. Fredericksburg handily defeated Salem, 15-5 behind an eight-run first inning and some web gems at Carillion Clinic Field. Geraldi Diaz capped the offensive outburst in the opening frame with a three-run homer and finished the game with a game-high four RBIs.
Washington's No. 12 prospect Jackson Rutledge improved to 8-6 after allowing four runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out seven in five frames. Peyton Glavine, son of two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom, followed with a scoreless frame, and Marlon Perez closed out the rout with a scoreless ninth.
The FredNats also needed a loss by Carolina, which came via a 5-4 walk-off win by Myrtle Beach. Fredericksburg improved to 72-54 on the year and 39-21 in the second half. This postseason berth marked the first for the franchise since its relocation to Fredericksburg in 2020.
A lot of things needed to happen for Single-A Lynchburg to clinch, but when all was said and done, the Guardians affiliate took care of business by sweeping a doubleheader over Delmarva to claim the first-half North Division title. Game 1 starter Will Dion fanned eight over six frames en route to a 3-2 victory, while Game 2 starter Jack Leftwich went all seven innings, striking out nine and retiring the final 11 batters he faced in a 5-1 win.
On the season, the Guardians affiliate's staff posted a 3.84 ERA, good for fourth in the league, a 1.28 WHIP (third-best) while striking out 714 (second). Lynchburg’s offense posted a .351 OBP (third) while swatting 104 doubles (tied for fourth) and drawing 320 walks (third).
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Single-A Myrtle Beach has been dominant all season long, but couldn't clinch without a little late-inning drama. The Cubs affiliate took down Kannapolis, 7-6, in 10 innings to capture the first-half South Division title. After falling behind 6-1 through five frames, the Pelicans scored six unanswered runs for a 7-6 lead. A wild pitch with two outs tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Myrtle Beach capitalized on the free runner to take the contest.
With a 47-19 record, the Pelicans have racked up the most wins in the Minor Leagues with a farm-best run differential of +149. They lead the Carolina League with 337 RBIs and 388 runs scored and have the second-most hits (549), third-most homers (56), second-best average (.250) and third-highest OPS (.738). While the offense was stellar, the pitching has been even better. The Myrtle Beach staff leads the circuit with a 3.03 ERA (the second-lowest team ERA in the Minors), 1.24 WHIP, 21 saves and eight shutouts while surrendering the fewest homers (28) and second-fewest hits (444). Gameday box score