The Lynchburg Hillcats' magical run through the Carolina League playoffs concluded with their third Mills Cup title Thursday night, completing a three-game sweep of host Salem with an 8-7 victory.
"Tonight was a microcosm of the whole season for us," first-year manager P.J. Forbes said. "We took advantage of the opportunities we had with some timely hitting, and then hung on for dear life with great pitching and defense."
Shortstop Jordy Mercer went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs. The former third-round Draft pick out of Oklahoma State collected 11 base hits in eight playoff games, tying Salem's Jonathan Hee for the league lead in the postseason.
Jamie Romak doubled, singled twice and drove in three runs. Second baseman Chase d'Arnaud contributed a two-RBI double and was named series MVP. The leadoff man went 4-for-13 with three doubles and seven RBIs in the three-game sweep.
Several other Hillcats made big plays in the narrow Game 3 win. After Salem shortstop Ryan Dent's two-run homer in the sixth inning cut the Lynchburg lead to 8-6, left fielder Alex Presley tracked down a deep fly ball from Anthony Rizzo at the wall.
After Dent walked to lead off the home half of the eighth inning, catcher Tony Sanchez -- the Pirates' top pick in the 2009 Draft -- nailed him trying to steal second.
Lynchburg reliever Michael Colla earned the win, tossing 3 1/3 no-hit scoreless frames after taking over from starter Jeff Locke in the second. It was Colla's first appearance of the playoffs and his longest outing since April 21. Locke's exit was the first time a Lynchburg starter failed to go at least five innings in the postseason.
Neither starting pitcher escaped the second. Locke yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in 1 2/3 frames for Lynchburg, while Salem's Kyle Weiland was tagged with seven runs -- four earned -- on four hits and three walks in 1 1/3 innings for the loss.
After winning the Carolina League North Division in the first half of the season, the Hillcats stumbled to a league-worst 28-42 record in the second half. Slated to face the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who had beaten Lynchburg in nine consecutive games and gone 46-24 in the second half, the Hillcats shook off 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to stun the Blue Rocks in five games.
"Everything came to fruition for us in the playoffs," said Forbes. "When Chase d'Arnaud arrived midseason, giving us two shortstops, we shuffled Jordy Mercer and some other guys around, trying to give the players the best chance to be successful down the road -- and it paid off. ... We've had unbelievable starting pitching."
In what was dubbed the "460 Series," Lynchburg and Salem -- just 60 miles apart along U.S. Route 460 -- met for the first time in the Mills Cup Finals.
The three-game sweep gave Lynchburg its third Carolina League championship since becoming the Hillcats in 1995. They also captured the Mills Cup in 2002 and 1997. The Lynchburg Mets won three league titles between 1978 and 1984.