Triston McKenzie struck out 11 batters and only allowed one run on one hit in six innings to help Lynchburg defeat Down East, 3-2, and clinch the second-half Northern Division title.
Both McKenzie and Down East's starter Emerson Martinez began the game locked in. Each pitcher retired the first nine batters he faced to turn in a perfect three innings. Both offenses finally broke through in the fourth.
With one out in the top of the fourth, Willi Castro lined a single to center field to produce the first baserunner for either team. Andrew Calica was hit by a pitch to put two men on. Gavin Collins drove in Castro with a single, and Martin Cervenka picked up an RBI with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0. Down East answered with one run on one hit in the home half.
The Hillcats' final tally occurred in the sixth inning. Calica reached on an error and stole second base. He later scored on an RBI fielder's choice off the bat of Connor Marabell. Calica stole three bases in the game to give him 14 for the season.
McKenzie left the game after 78 pitches, 61 of which were strikes. He notched his league-leading 11th win of the season and raised his strikeout count to 176, which also tops the Carolina League. Nick Pasquale and Jared Robinson each tossed one inning of middle relief to earn a hold. Luke Eubank worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning with a strikeout to seal the win.
Lynchburg improved to 80-50 overall and 40-21 in the second half. Both marks represent the best in the Carolina League. The Hillcats clinched the second-half Northern Division title with the victory and losses by Salem and Frederick.
Lynchburg continues its three-game series at Down East Saturday at 6 p.m. Brock Hartson (6-4, 3.06) leads the Carolina League in ERA and will start for the Hillcats. The game can be heard live at www.lynchburg-hillcats.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.