Pelicans capture first-half title, secure playoff berth

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Following the news that they had clinched the Carolina League Southern Division First Half Championship, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, rallied for a walk-off win in extra innings to split their doubleheader with the Lynchburg Hillcats on Saturday.

Despite the Hillcats shutting out the Birds with a 2-0 victory in game one, Jeimer Candelario clubbed an extra-inning walk-off single in game two to give the Pelicans a 5-4 win. The Pelicans were amid the fifth inning of game one when the Winston-Salem Dash officially eliminated the Salem Red Sox from the first half title race with an 8-2 win.

The Pelicans entered Saturday with a Magic Number of one, needing a win in one of the two doubleheader games or a loss from Salem in one of their two contests with Winston-Salem to clinch the title, the team’s fifth straight and ninth overall in the 17-year history of the franchise.

Lynchburg (33-36) hopped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of game one, spurred by a lead-off walk to designated hitter Luigi Rodriguez, who then stole second base. Right fielder Clint Frazier singled to right to move Rodriguez to third base, and center fielder Bradley Zimmer drove in the game’s first run with a sharp single up the middle. Two batters later, third baseman Paul Hendrix collected a single of his own to give the Hillcats a lead that they did not surrender.

The Pelicans (40-28) mustered three hits in the game off of three different Hillcats hurlers. Starting pitcher Luis Lugo shut out the Birds on just one hit across five innings of work while striking out four and walking four. Right-hander Casey Weathers pitched one inning while allowing one hit, and closer Ben Heller picked up his seventh save with a shutout seventh inning.

In the seventh, Victor Caratini clubbed a one-out double off the right field wall, but it was the only hit Heller allowed. The righty put the tying run on first base when he walked Trey Martin, but struck out Kevin Brown and got Mark Zagunis to ground out to the end the game.

Chesny Young was 0-for-2 at the plate, closing the book on a career-best 11-game hit-streak.

Tseng (2-4) took the loss, working five innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits while striking out two and walking four. Lugo (4-5) lasted five frames as well.

The Birds found themselves in a hole again after the first half-inning in game two. Lugo mashed a lead-off triple to the left-center field wall off of starting pitcher Jonathan Martinez, but the right-hander bounced back with a pair of strikeouts. With two outs in the frame, third baseman Paul Hendrix put the Hillcats ahead 1-0 with an RBI single to right field. Martinez took no decision after three innings on the hill, his shortest start of the year.

Myrtle Beach responded in the bottom of the inning when Mark Zagunis singled up the middle and moved to third base on a hit-and-run single executed by Pin-Chieh Chen. With Young at the plate, starter Mitch Brown uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Zagunis to score the tying run. Two batters later, Candelario walked, but after a fly out by Jacob Rogers, Kevin Brown gave the Pelicans a 2-1 lead with an RBI base hit up the middle. Daniel Lockhart followed by blooping an RBI single down the left-field line, and Jordan Hankins followed suit with a similar hit to tack on another run and push the Pelicans’ lead to 4-1.

Lynchburg chipped away with a bases-loaded walk in the third inning and an RBI triple in the fourth from shortstop Ivan Castillo to trim the lead to 4-3.

In the seventh inning with two outs and a man at second base, reliever James Pugliese surrendered a game tying single to first baseman Joe Sever.

Tied at four runs apiece, hard-throwing right-hander Justin Brantley retired the Pelicans in order in the bottom of the seventh.

Delvy Francisco came on for the eighth, and the righty walked Chen to start the frame. Young executed another hit-and-run, singling and moving the winning run to third base, and Candelario lined the walk-off single to right field. 

Francisco (0-2) took the loss without retiring a batter in his appearance. Paniagua (3-1) picked up the win after tossing a full inning from the bullpen while striking out a pair. Pugliese, who blew his second save of the season, lasted two frames while giving up an earned run on two hits.

The Pelicans complete the first half on Sunday, facing the Hillcats for a fourth straight game. First pitch from TicketReturn.Com Field is scheduled for 6:05 p.m

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