LYNCHBURG, Va. (September 14, 2016) - The Myrtle Beach Pelicans came from behind to win their second straight Carolina League Championship Wednesday, beating the Lynchburg Hillcats 5-3 at Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium.
The 2016 championship is the team's second consecutive title and fourth in Pelicans' history. They are the first team to win back-to-back Carolina League titles since the Winston-Salem Spirits in 1985-86. The Spirits were also a Cubs affiliate.
With Myrtle Beach (3-1) trailing 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Charcer Burks drew a leadoff walk against Lynchburg (1-3) reliever Mitch Brown (0-1). Donnie Dewees then lined a single up the middle to push Burks to second. David Bote followed by beating out a slow roller to shortstop, loading the bases with nobody out. Brown then unleashed a wild pitch, allowing Burks to come home and score and tie the game at three. Two batters later, Bryant Flete lined a single to center to score Dewees and give Myrtle Beach a 4-3 lead. With runners at the corners and one out, a Lynchburg error allowed Bote to score and put the Birds on top at 5-3.
James Pugliese (1-1) worked 4.1 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win, punching out seven batters in the process.
Tommy Thorpe got the final two outs in the eighth before Ryan McNeil worked a scoreless ninth to earn the save and clinch the series.
With the game scoreless in the bottom of the first, Tyler Krieger singled to start the inning for Lynchburg. Francisco Mejia then doubled to the gap in right-center to score Krieger and give the Hillcats a 1-0 lead. After a Yu-Cheng Chang single pushed Mejia to third, Pelicans starter Preston Morrison hit Anthony Santander to load the bases with nobody out. Morrison then bounced back to strike out Bobby Bradley before getting a double play to escape further damage.
With the Pelicans down 1-0 in the top of the third, Burks drew a leadoff walk before advancing to second on a groundout. The Hillcats then intentionally walked Bote. With runners at first and second, Jimenez singled to center to score Burks and tie the game at one. After a strikeout, Baez hit a hard ground ball to shortstop. Yu-Cheng Chang had the ball carom off his glove and into center field, allowing Bote to score on the error and give Myrtle Beach a 2-1 lead.
Trailing by one, Krieger began the bottom of the third with a single before Mejia clubbed a two-run homer to right-center to lift Lynchburg to a 3-2 lead.
The 2016 campaign was defined by a consistent pitching staff and batting order that caught fire in the second half. The Pelicans' pitching staff paced the Carolina League with a 3.47 ERA, with the next closest team registering a 3.76 mark. Myrtle Beach won 38 of their last 49 games.
Individually, Myrtle Beach was led by first baseman Yasiel Balaguert, who finished second in the league with 96 RBIs, a Pelicans single-season record. He also led the Chicago Cubs organization in home runs (19) and RBIs.
Left fielder Charcer Burks paced the Pelicans with 28 doubles, 66 walks and 71 runs scored, slugging 11 home runs.
Infielder David Bote led the second half charge, hitting .351/.425/.530 in 65 games. He also led the postseason run, going 15-for-26 (.577) with five doubles and nine RBIs in seven games.
The pitching staff was led by Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Trevor Clifton, who led the league in ERA by a wide margin, finishing with a 72 mark while bringing home multiple Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors.
Right-hander Zach Hedges enjoyed similar success to Clifton's, working to a 2.89 ERA over 16 starts before being promoted to Double-A Tennessee. Preston Morrison picked up the slack from there, going 3-0 with a 1.77 ERA in six starts after his promotion from Low-A South Bend.
The bullpen also proved to be one of the best in Minor League Baseball, finishing the regular season with a 3.36 ERA and pitching even better in the postseason. The unit was led by closer Ryan McNeil, who saved the most games in the league (22), while striking out 61 in 54 innings. McNeil's ERA (2.33) was the best amongst all Pelicans relievers with at least 20 innings, followed by James Farris (2.40), Daniel Lewis (2.59), Tommy Nance (2.67) and Jordan Minch (2.88).
The Pelicans will look to become the first team to 3-peat in Carolina League history in 2017.
The 2016 season was the 18th season for the Pelicans franchise and second as the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. For information on tickets to see the Pelicans in 2016, please call (843) 918-6000, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.MyrtleBeachPelicans.com.
ABOUT THE PELICANS: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and play their home games at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The park has ranked in the top eight in all of Minor League Baseball by Stadium Journey in each of the last five seasons. The same publication also placed the Pelicans in the Top 100 Stadium Experiences in all of sports in each of the last five years and the best in the Carolina League for five straight seasons as well. In May 2015, TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark won the 2015 TripAdvisor.com Certificate of Excellence award. The Pelicans are the two-time defending Mills Cup Champions, winning the title in 2015 and 2016 as well as 2000 and co-Mills Cup championship honors in the inaugural 1999 season. The Pelicans have made ten postseason appearances behind 12 half-season Southern Division championships, including the first half of the 2015 season and second half of 2016. For more information on the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, please contact the Pelicans at (843) 918-6000 or emailing Info@MyrtleBeachPelicans.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.