September 8, 2017 Lynchburg Hillcats

From 2016 through 2018, the Lynchburg Hillcats played four play-off games and won three including a 14 inning walk off win in 2016 and a double header split in 2018. That being said, the most dominant of these wins and possibly the most relevant to the 2020 MLB season was in 2017.

Triston McKenzie made the start for the Hillcats in the home game against the Frederick Keys. He didn’t allow a base runner over the first two innings while the Hillcats attempted some offense in the first when Sam Haggerty doubled to lead off the inning, but was stranded. In the second, it was more about the Keys defense as Mitch Longo singled, then moved up thanks to a Jomar Reyes error. A passed ball advanced both Longo and Connor Marabell before a Sicnarf Loopstok ground out brought home the first run of the game.

Longo makes contact during a 2019 rehab appearance in Indians extended spring training in Goodyear, AZ. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

McKenzie walked a batter in the third, then allowed a two out single, but stranded both runners. In nearly identical situation in the bottom half, Andrew Calica singled and Gavin Collins walked, but unlike the Keys, the Hillcats took advantage as Longo singled to drive in the second run.

McKenzie walked one in the next inning and allowed a hit in the fifth, but struck out four between the two innings and was aided by a Martin Cervenka catching a runner stealing to keep the slate clean. The sixth saw the Keys put a runner in scoring position with no outs for the first time in the game when Brallan Perez hit a lead-off double, but again two K’s allowed McKenzie to work himself out of the situation.

We can pretend the Hillcats offense was inspired by McKenzie’s incredible play-off performance as they put together the first and only multi-run inning of the game in the bottom of six. Yet again, it was Longo who got things going with a lead-off single. After an out, Marabell was intentionally walked and Loopstok singled to bring home Longo. Ka’ai Tom then came through with a two out double to bring home Marabell and give the Hillcats the 4-0 lead that would remain as the final score.

McKenzie struck out two more in a perfect seventh, then was pulled for Dominic DeMasi. He finished the game by retiring the final six batters in order with three strike outs. Overall, Hillcats pitchers struck out 13 with two walks and three hits allowed in the shut out win.

DeMasi makes a rehab appearance with the Indians during 2019 extended spring training. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

Since they had lost game one of the five game set, this tied the series at a game apiece for the Hillcats. They would go on to win on September 9 (we’re covering a different Hillcats game tomorrow, so this isn’t spoiling anything), then have the rest of the series cancelled due to rain, making the Hillcats the winners. Due to hurricane Irma, the Carolina League championship round was cancelled as well, making the Hillcats co-champions in 2017 along with the Down East Wood Ducks.

As for McKenzie specifically, this was his final game of 2017 and marked the end of a great run in high A. He finished the year by allowing one or fewer runs in five of his final six games with 54 K’s in 36.1 innings (9 ER allowed).

Longo’s success in this game (3/4 with 2 runs and 1 RBI) was particularly interesting as well as he played just five regular season games with the Hillcats in 2017 after beginning the season with Lake County. He then had a nice season in 2018 playing the whole year in Lynchburg followed by a less effective season in Akron in 2019. In addition to McKenzie, who made his MLB debut in August 2020, Haggerty and Willi Castro have hit the big leagues out of this game’s line-up.

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