Wilmington, DE- Home runs by Kyle Isbel and Dennicher Carrasco plus 10 strikeouts from Rito Lugo lifted the Wilmington Blue Rocks to the Mills Cup Championship Series for the first time in four years thanks to a 6-3 win over the Salem Red Sox on Sunday at Frawley Stadium. The victory completed Wilmington's comeback from a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series.
The Rocks' offense was all about quality. They managed nine total hits, but five went for extra bases and two of them were long balls. They both came early, allowing Wilmington to play from in front on a winner-take-all stage.
Isbel set the tone with two down in the bottom of the third. The outfielder launched a 2-1 pitch over the fence in right to give the Blue Crew a 1-0 lead. An inning later Nick Pratto got things rolling with a double to right and Carrasco followed with a two-run bomb to left.
That was when Lugo took over. The lefty had to work is way out of some tight spots, stranding runners in scoring position in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings. He did it mainly by missing bats, fanning 10, and throwing 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He allowed just one run over six innings, which came in his last frame. Kole Cottam got an RBI double to make it 3-1, but with the potential tying run on base, Lugo finished his afternoon with consecutive punch outs.
Wilmington added what turned out to be an important insurance run in the seventh. Michael Gigliotti's RBI-double increased the lead back to three.
Salem mounted a rally in the eighth against Rocks reliever Josh Dye. The righty walked three of the four batters he faced before being replaced by Andrew Beckwith with the bases loaded and one out. Beckwith allowed an RBI fielder's choice and then a run-scoring single by Jerry Downs. The hit looked like it would tie the game, but a perfect throw to the plate from Isbel in right gunned down Triston Casas and preserved Wilmington's one-run edge.
The Rocks put the game away in the home-half of the frame. Kyle Kasser's single scored Carrasco and then a beautifully placed sacrifice bunt from Gigliotti plated MJ Melendez to make it 6-3.
Collin Snider worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to nail down the save and the series.
Wilmington will host Game One of the Mills Cup Championship Series on Tuesday at 6:35 p.m. The Rocks are vying for their first Carolina League crown in two decades. Tickets for each of the first two games are available at BlueRocks.com. Fans who cannot make it to Frawley Stadium can catch all of the action with the Voice of the Blue Rocks, Cory Nidoh on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
Pebbles of Knowledge
The Wilmington Blue Rocks are back in the Mills Cup Championship series for the first time since 2015. The Rocks won the first half on June 8th, clinching their playoff spot in walkoff fashion courtesy of a Blake Perkins RBI single. Exactly three months to the day, September 8th, the Blue Rocks defeated Salem earning the title Carolina League Northern Division Champions.
Salem and Wilmington opened their season on April 4th at Frawley Stadium. As the leadoff hitter, Kyle Isbel lifted a 3-2 pitch to dead center field for the first home run of the season. The Blue Crew ultimately fell on opening night 10-2, but had Salem's number in the final contest. Kyle Isbel got the scoring started once again for Wilmington lifting a homer to right field, his first of the 2019 playoffs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.