FREDERICK, Md. - The Single-A Frederick Keys scored four runs in the last of the ninth to stun the Lynchburg Hillcats 10-9 tonight and take the opener of a best-of-three Carolina League playoff series. Frederick can win the series on Friday night at Lynchburg.
The Keys kept coming back tonight. They were down 4-1 after six innings and 9-5 after the top of the eighth. But they pulled off this improbable win, overcame four errors and beat the team with the best record in the league.
The Keys came to bat down 9-6 in the ninth. But singles by Chris Clare and Ademar Rifaela put two on with one out. Then a Glynn Davis RBI single made it 9-7 and a Jomar Reyes sac fly to deep center produced a 9-8 score. But that was the second out of the inning and left fielder Randolph Gassaway batted with runners on first and third as Lynchburg was an out away. Gassaway’s grounder to deep short went for an infield hit and a 9-9 tie.
That brought right fielder Jake Ring to the plate. The Orioles’ 31st round pick in 2016 had spent most of this year with Single-A Delmarva and this was just his fourth Keys game. But Ring singled to right, pinch-runner Jay Gonzalez came in to score and Frederick had a big comeback victory. That touched off a wild on-field celebration as the Keys beat the team that won 13 more games than any other in the Carolina League.
Earlier, Frederick came up with a big four-run seventh inning to overcome what was until then a very strong start by Lynchburg right-hander Aaron Civale. They began that inning behind 4-1 and ended it up 5-4.
But just moments later, the momentum and the lead were gone. Lynchburg scored five times in the top of the eighth and got some big help from Frederick’s defense. Critical errors by first baseman Shane Hoelscher and relief pitcher Jefri Hernandez opened the door for the rally and a 9-5 Hillcats lead. All five runs in the eighth were unearned. It looked like Frederick might be done.
Except they weren’t.
Ring’s RBI groundout in the eighth scored Reyes after his double and that pulled Frederick within 9-6 to set the stage for the dramatics an inning later.
Lynchburg finished the regular season at 87-52 and went 14-5 versus Frederick. But the Keys pulled off an upset tonight in dramatic fashion as a crowd of 2,208 roared its approval.
“The thing that I will take away from tonight is watching those kids,” said Frederick manager Keith Bodie. “They played their hearts out. Just watching them was pretty special. I’ve seen a lot of these games and been in a lot of them, but I’ve never seen the emotion of a team like I saw tonight. It was pretty special.”
Bodie had said before the game how badly his team wants to win in the postseason and the Keys proved it tonight. After it looked like they gave the game away on defense, they won it in the ninth on offense.
Ring went 2-for-5 with four RBIs and drove in all four over the last three innings. What was he thinking in the ninth when he came up with a chance for a walk-off win?
“Everyone in front of me got it done, so I might as well do it, too,” Ring said. “Pressure was on, but I believed I could get it done for the team. Nothing but positive vibes right now here. Everyone wants to win. Just a great environment to be around and an awesome team to join.”
Lynchburg got two early homers off Frederick right-hander Cristian Alvarado. A second inning two-run shot by Mitch Longo and a solo shot an inning later by Willi Castro made it 3-0 lead. The teams exchanged runs to make it a 4-1 Lynchburg lead until the flurry of late offense. Alvarado went five innings, allowing five hits and three runs on 87 pitches.
Hoelscher went 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs and Reyes 2-for-3 with three runs and an RBI. Six different Keys drove in runs as Frederick went 9-for-17 with runners in scoring position. The Keys scored one run on two hits over the first six innings and then scored nine runs on 11 hits in the seventh, eighth and ninth.
Tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. in Lynchburg, the Keys can win the series. Frederick left-hander Brian Gonzalez (5-7, 4.91 ERA) pitches against Hillcats right-hander Triston McKenzie (12-6, 3.46 ERA). If a third game is needed to decide the series, it will be played Saturday night in Lynchburg.