The yet unseen effects of Hurricane Irma have already impacted the Carolina League with the cancellation of the Mills Cup Championship Series. The byproduct of that decision meant each semifinal became a best-of-3 Finals, which put the pressure squarely on Class A Advanced Lynchburg's Triston McKenzie.
It was urgency the 20-year-old welcomed and shrugged off at the same time.
McKenzie struck out 10 and scattered three hits and two walks over seven innings as the Hillcats blanked Frederick, 4-0, on Friday night at Calvin Falwell Field to even their series at one game apiece.
The winner of Saturday's scheduled contest will be declared Mills Cup co-champions with Down East, which defeated Myrtle Beach, 2-1, on Friday to complete a two-game sweep.
McKenzie understood the importance of this game from the moment he took the mound.
"For me personally, it was a must-win in my eyes from the get-go," the Florida high school product said. "Tonight was an opportunity for us to get back into this. You don't want to go down by two games, even if it was still a five-game series. I wanted to give my team a chance to win tonight and I think I did that."
Gameday box score
After ending the regular season with consecutive double-digit strikeout performances, McKenzie (1-0) picked up where he left off. The Indians' No. 2 prospect pitched two perfect frames before allowing a walk and a single in the third -- the only inning in which he put multiple runners on base. McKenzie notched six strikeouts over his last three frames, working around a single in the fifth and a leadoff double in the sixth. He was lifted after throwing 60 of 90 pitches for strikes.
Dominic DeMasi struck out three over two perfect innings to complete the shutout.
"Tonight, I came out with intensity and full trust in [catcher Martin Cervenka]," MLB.com's No. 21 overall prospect said. "I was throwing the pitches he was calling and throwing them with intent. I wanted to go out there and pitch like I always do, which means treating every outing like it's my last.
"The game plan was the same as always coming in. We just broke down each hitter's tendencies and then it was a matter of executing the fastball and using the curve to go off that."
The strikeout pitch is no stranger to McKenzie, who racked up 186 punchouts in the regular season to rank second in the Minor Leagues behind No. 7 White Sox prospect, Alec Hansen, who whiffed 191 across three levels. The 6-foot-5, 165-pounder recorded at least 10 strikeouts in six of 25 starts with Lynchburg, including a career-high 14 on May 9. McKenzie was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year for his efforts.
"It's always nice to finish a season strong," said McKenzie, who allowed one run in four of his last five regular-season starts. "I definitely didn't want to go into the offseason on a low note.
"We were all on the same page tonight. There was no extra pressure felt by anyone and nobody felt like they had to do anything special. We just went out there and did anything we could to win. It wasn't anything special."
Sicnarf Loopstok drove in two runs and Mitch Longo went 3-for-4 with an RBI for Lynchburg.
Complete playoff coverage
Frederick starter Brian Gonzalez (0-1) allowed two runs -- one earned -- on five hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.
The deciding game is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET at Calvin Falwell Field.