(Eastlake, OH) - Tuesday was a night of almosts for the Lake County Captains (17-20). Juan Hillman battled hard, but could not out-duel South Bend Cubs (16-19) starter Tyler Thomas in a southpaw showdown and the Captains' offense narrowly fell short in a ninth-inning comeback attempt. The Captains lost to South Bend in the third game of a six-game series at Classic Park, 4-3.
Hillman struggled in the first, but then settled into a groove. In the opening frame, Jared Young and Austin Filiere hit back-to-back one-out singles. Hillman got a grounder for the second out, moving the runners to second and third, and the lefty nearly escaped unscathed. With Yeiler Peguero at the plate, however, Hillman delivered two wild pitches to score Young and Filiere and give South Bend a 2-0 lead.
Thomas was perfect the first time through the Captains' order. He set down the first nine men he faced including three strikeouts, but Lake County scratched across a run against the southpaw in the fourth. Ernie Clement led off with a single for the Captains' first hit and Will Benson sent a screaming line drive to second that glanced off of Peguero's glove for an error. With runners on the corners and one out, Jorma Rodriguez drove home Clement with a sacrifice fly, cutting the Cubs' lead to 2-1.
Hillman turned things around after the first and was masterful for five innings in a row. From the second through the sixth innings, the lefty, pitching on his 21st birthday, held the Cubs scoreless and allowed one hit while notching six strikeouts. In the seventh, however, the Cubs struck again.
South Bend tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh. Hillman was in his last inning on the mound after tossing five straight scoreless frames, but Miguel Amaya led off with a solo homer to the back of the left field bleachers. Later in the inning, Brandon Hughes singled, stole second and came home on an RBI single by Rafael Narea to push the Cubs' lead to 4-1.
Lake County finally scored an earned run against Thomas in the seventh and pulled back within two runs. Nolan Jones worked a leadoff walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. Thomas retired the next two men, but Austen Wade came up next against a new pitcher, lefty Manuel Rondon. Wade smoked a double over Zach Davis' head in centerfield and Jones scored to trim South Bend's lead to 4-2.
The ninth inning looked promising for the Captains. Clement led off the inning with a single and Benson worked a walk to put the tying run on base. Rondon then struck out Jones for the first out and right-hander Enrique De Los Rios came in from the bullpen to face Rodriguez. De Los Rios got Rodriguez to bounce a ball to third, but Filiere's throw to second base pulled Peguero off the bag and the Captains had the bases loaded with one out. Jonathan Laureano came up next and hit a high chopper to third base. Filiere turned around and tagged out Benson as he ran by, but Clement scored to cut the Cubs' lead to one run. With runners on first and second and two outs, Todd Isaacs pinch ran for Laureano at first base, representing the potential winning run, but De Los Rios got Wade to bounce to shortstop for a game-ending force out at second. De Los Rios picked up his third save, nailing down the victory for the Cubs.
Thomas (2-3) earned the win. The Cubs' lefty pitched 6.2 innings and gave up just one hit. Thomas surrendered two runs, one of which was earned, struck out seven and walked one.
Hillman (0-6) took a tough-luck loss. He pitched 6.2 innings and allowed four runs on six hits. Hillman struck out seven and did not issue a walk.
The Captains have lost two out of the first three games to South Bend and the teams will play their second doubleheader in three days on Wednesday. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at Classic Park.
Information about Classic Park or the Captains can be found online at www.captainsbaseball.com and by phone at 440-954-WINS (9467). Affordable ticket packages and group party and picnic options are available now.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.