The Carolina League (or Mills Cup) Championship began on Sunday night, as first half and Northern Division Champion Wilmington played host to fellow first half and Southern Division Champion Myrtle Beach.
The pitcher’s duel went to the Pelicans, 3-2 in ten innings.
The Blue Rocks, or should I say Ryan O’Hearn, jumped on Pelicans starter Jen-Ho Tseng to lead off the 2nd inning. O’Hearn’s solo homer landed somewhere in the parking lot beyond the right field wall.
Until the sixth, Blue Rocks starter Zach Lovvorn was cruising, having allowed four hits (though one was erased on a caught stealing) while striking out six (including the side in the second after a leadoff single).
Then the 6th inning happened. Lovvorn said after the game that he wasn’t running out of steam, “just more missing my spots”.
It started with a leadoff single by Chesny Young, who was erased on a fielder’s choice. Rehabbing Chicago Cub Jorge Soler (who struck out badly in his first two at-bats) doubled in Young to tie the game at 1-1.
Lovvorn induced a ground out from Victor Caratini before Mark Zagunis broke the tie with a single. Lovvorn walked the next batter and was pulled in favor of lefty Luis Rico, who had not pitched since September 2nd.
Rico quickly got left-handed hitting Jason Vosler to pop up on the infield to escape further damage.
Rico would continue into the seventh, throwing just four pitches to the first two batters he faced (a strikeout and a pop up). After a walk, Rico made a nice play on a Pin-Chieh Chen comebacker to get out of the inning.
Rico would strike out Soler (on three pitches) and Zagunis around a line out to center in the eighth and after a ground out to first to start the ninth, Rico struck out the final two batters of the inning.
The Blue Rocks offense looked like it was going to break through in the bottom of the ninth with another walk off winner. Instead, they settled for a tie.
O’Hearn singled off the first base bag and Elier Hernandez worked a walk. With two strikes, Cam Gallagher laid down a perfect bunt just past the pitcher to load the bases. The Pelicans changed pitchers, bringing in the sidearmer David Berg.
Humberto Arteaga hit into a fielder’s choice, with the out coming at home. Dominique Taylor followed with a ground ball to second, but the second baseman decided to try and turn a double play. Problem is, his shortstop never moved to cover the bag, thinking he would go home. They got the out at second, but the tying run scored.
Berg then got Logan Moon to ground out to end the inning and send the game into extras.
Rico went back out for the tenth, but allowed a double to nine-hole hitter Daniel Lockhart on a pitch up (it was also a catchable ball to right field). It was the one mistake Rico made all night and it ended up costing the Blue Rocks (44 pitches, 31 strikes).
In came right-hander Andrew Edwards, who probably warmed up over 2-3 innings. He walked the first batter he faced before a sac bunt moved both runners into scoring position.
The Blue Rocks elected to intentionally walk Soler to load the bases for Caratini, who singled through the drawn in infield to give the Pelicans the 3-2 lead. Edwards rebounded to get a nicely turned 5-2-3 double play to escape further damage.
Against Berg in the bottom of the tenth, the Blue Rocks went down quietly, including the last two to strikeouts.
The two teams will be back out there on Monday night, with a rematch of Labor Day’s game between Jake Junis and Tyler Skulina. The series then moves to Myrtle Beach on Wednesday.
*If this series goes to a Game 5 in Myrtle Beach, Lovvorn would get the start for the Blue Rocks. What changes will he make from now to then? “Taking the first five innings and just try to build on it and just keep going. Like tonight, five innings went by, and then a rough patch in the sixth. Just learn from it, get on with it, and next outing.”
For his first playoff game ever in the Royals organization (four years), it a solid performance. “Any nerves? No nerves. Before the game there were little butterflies, but I just had to zone that out and treat it like it’s another game.”