A collision at the plate and a retaliation hit-by-pitch caused the benches to clear in the fifth inning of a two-run ballgame Tuesday night. Three Hillcats were ejected after the altercation. Lynchburg came back to tie the game but fell 5-4 to the Potomac Nationals in 10 innings.
Each team scored in the first inning. Destin Hood hit a two-out solo home run in the top of the inning to give the Nationals the lead. The Hillcats responded by manufacturing a run. Todd Cunningham walked to lead off the inning. Lynchburg executed a perfect hit-and-run, with Andrelton Simmons singling out to right, sending Cunningham to third. Christian Bethancourt followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at one.
The Hillcats took advantage of a Potomac error in the third to take the lead. With Cunningham on second and one out, Bethancourt hit a grounder back to the pitcher, Evan Bronson. Bronson made a low throw to first, that rolled all the way to the Potomac bullpen. Cunningham came in to score and the Hillcats took a 2-1 lead.
The Nationals tied the game on in the fourth inning. With Zach Walters on first and Steven Souza on third, Chris Masters threw a pitch that hit the dirt. The ball skipped slightly away from Bethancourt, and Walters started to head towards second. Bethancourt quickly got to the ball and threw down to second, Walters stopped and Souza took off from third. The throw came back to the plate, and when Souza got there, he leveled Bethancourt, knocking him off his feet and knocking the ball out of his glove. Souza scored and Bethancourt, who didn't move for nearly a minute, had to leave the game.
The game got wild in the fifth inning. The Nationals scored two runs to take a 4-2 lead, but the story was the action in between plays. Early in the inning, catcher Shawn McGill, who entered the game for Bethancourt, was hit in the head on an accidental backswing by hitter Francisco Soriano. McGill had to leave the game and the third catcher of game, Ryan Query had to come in.
Souza came to the plate with a runner on after the two runs came in. Masters threw a fastball that hit him, and Souza took a step towards Masters and said something. Masters started yelling back, walking off the mound towards the plate, and the benches and bullpens cleared. No punches were thrown, but several players had to be physically restrained. When players were finally separated, Masters and Hillcats relievers Eliecer Cardenas and Ryan Buchter were ejected from the game, and no Nationals players were ejected.
Despite the altercation, there was still a game to be played, and the Hillcats cut into the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Andrelton Simmons doubled, and then stole third. Query, making his first at-bat of the game, hit a sacrifice fly to center to cut the lead to 4-3.
Query again came through in the bottom of the seventh. He singled home Marcus Lemon to tie the game at four.
Both teams squandered chances until the top of the tenth, when Zach Walters singled home Brian Peacock, giving the Nationals a 5-4 lead. Hector Nelo came in to hold the Hillcats scoreless in the tenth, picking up his 18th save of the season and preserving the win for the Nationals.
Joe Testa (6-2) earned the win in relief for Potomac and Andrew Wilson (2-4) took the loss for Lynchburg.
The Hillcats fell to 28-34 in the second half. Potomac improved to 35-28 and their magic number to clinch a playoff birth dropped to one.
The series between these two teams continues Wednesday night. David Hale (3-6) will pitch for the Hillcats and Paul Demny (9-10) will pitch for the Nationals. First pitch is at 7:05 pm and the gates will open at 6.
The Hillcats On-Deck Show presented by Honda/Suzuki of Lynchburg will go on the air at 6:40 pm. Tune in to 105.5 KD Country or go to lynchburg-hillcats.com to listen live to all the action.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.