Lynchburg, VA-After all calculation were done prior to Thursday night, one thing stood for certain. That was that the Potomac Nationals (62-73, 29-38) needed a win over the Lynchburg Hillcats (83-52, 43-23) in order to stay alive in the playoff race heading into the final series of the 2017 season. In their first must-win game of the second half, the P-Nats had deal with RHP Triston McKenzie (W, 12-6), who was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year earlier in the day. Though the Potomac pitching staff kept the club in the game despite seven innings of one-run baseball from McKenzie, the Potomac bullpen finally cracked, as the Hillcats scored one run in the seventh inning and three insurance runs in the eighth frame in route to a 5-1 victory.
For the third time in the three-game series, the Hillcats scored the first run of the game and never trailed. With one out on the bottom of the second inning, 2B Claudio Bautista hit a solo home run off of RHP Sterling Sharp (ND).
A half inning later, the P-Nats scored their lone run of the night vs. McKenzie, who struck out 10 over seven innings. 3B Bryan Mejia singled with one out, while CF Daniel Johnson's double put men at second and third base for DH Jack Sundberg . Sundberg tied the game with an RBI groundout to first base, though the P-Nats left the go-ahead run at third base. Potomac went 0-7 with RISP on the night.
The game remained tied 1-1 until the bottom of the seventh inning, as both Sharp and McKenzie pitched very well. Sharp allowed just one run over five innings, while McKenzie retired the final six batters that he faced. In his second inning out of the bullpen for Potomac, LHP R.C. Orlan (L, 2-1) gave up the lead on consecutive two-out base hits in the seventh inning. 3B Sicnarf Loopstok singled and scored on an RBI triple by CF Ka'ai Tom. Tom's hit proved to be the difference in the game.
RHP Gilberto Mendez came on for the eighth inning for Potomac. For the fourth time in his last five appearances, Mendez gave up at least one run. DH Connor Marabell led off the eighth inning with a double, while a single from Bautista put men on the corners with no outs. RF Mitch Longo made it 3-1 with an RBI single, his third hit of the night in his Carolina League debut. After a sacrifice bunt by LF Jodd Carter, 1B Anthony Miller made it 4-1 with an RBI single. SS Sam Haggerty wrapped up the scoring with an RBI groundout, as the Hillcats took a 5-1 lead into the final frame.
In his second inning of relief, LHP Ben Krauth (SV, 4) allowed the tying man to step into the on-deck circle, but never into the batter's box. Walks in the inning for C Jakson Reetz and SS David Masters brought RF Rhett Wiseman to the plate, but Wiseman struck out to end the game.
With the sweep at the hands of the Hillcats and Frederick's sweep of the Salem Red Sox, the P-Nats currently sit five games behind the Keys with just four games to go, and thus will miss out on a return trip to the playoffs. The P-Nats will have a chance to play spoiler for Frederick, as the Keys enter the four-game series with Potomac two games ahead of Salem for a playoff spot.
In the opener of the series vs. the Keys, RHP Joan Baez (4-8, 3.86) will get the nod for Potomac. Baez has been Potomac's best starter since he returned from the disabled list on 7/28. In six starts since he rejoined Potomac, Baez is 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a .191 OBA. For Frederick, LHP Brian Gonzalez (5-7, 5.05) will make his second consecutive start vs. Potomac. Gonzalez is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA and a .175 OBA in his last three starts.
First pitch on Friday is set for 7:00pm. The Potomac broadcast will get underway at 6:45pm with the P-Nats Leadoff Show. You can listen to the Potomac broadcast at potomacnationals.com or on the TuneIn Radio App.
The Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League play at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia, and are the Carolina League affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Potomac Nationals have claimed five Carolina League Championship titles (1982, 1989, 2008, 2010, and 2014) and nine CL Northern Division Championships. Sponsorship opportunities for the P-Nats' 2017 season and beyond are available, as well as all-inclusive corporate outings to watch the future stars of the Washington Nationals at The Pfitz. For more information on Potomac Nationals 2017 single game tickets, season tickets, mini plans, group outings, and picnic packages, visit the P-Nats online at www.potomacnationals.com or call the Potomac Nationals' Extreme Custom Collision Ticket Office at 703-590-2311.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.