Rather than declare co-champions as they did a year ago, the Carolina League decided to reduce a season of 140-plus games to one, a coin flip that went the way of the Buies Creek Astros, who defeated the Potomac Nationals 2-1 in 11 innings.
As you might expect with the league’s #1 pitching staff facing off against #2, the game was low-scoring and high-whiffing. But you might not have expected it with a rookie making his Carolina League debut—Bryan Abreu—and one year removed from a 1-3, 7.98 short-season campaign against the talented-but-erratic Joan Baez, who had been scratched for five runs over five innings by the Hillcats last week.
Abreu turned in four scoreless innings as he was limited to one and a 1/2 turns through the Potomac lineup before giving way to the scheduled Game Two starter Jose Hernandez, who had faced the P-Nats in late July in another 2-1 ballgame that the P-Nats won.
Potomac scored its lone run against Hernandez in the 5th as Andruw Monasterio drew a one-out walk and scored on Nick Banks’s double down the right field line.
Baez worked around a walk in the first, a single in the 3rd, and a single and an error in the 4th before it was clear that there were no more rabbits in his hat in the 5th, when he loaded the bases on two walks and a third hit with two outs (both K’s). Manager Tripp Keister came and got ‘im and Steven Fuentes, who struggled the last time he was asked to come in with runners on base, delivered the elusive third out this time to preserve the 1-0 lead.
With both starters out, it became a battle of the bullpens, which Buies Creek won, getting a solo HR with two outs in the 8th against Jeremy McKinney and the Astros Enoli Paredes wriggling out of a bases-loaded-one-out jam in the 9th.
Potomac would threaten just once more with Ian Sagdal collecting the third double of the night with one out in the 11th before an intentional walk to Aldrem Corredor sandwiched between the 13th and 14th K’s by Tres Barrera and Andruw Monasterio ended it.
Buies Creek got back-to-back singles to lead off the 10th off Carlos Acevedo then sacrificed twice – once on the ground for 3-4 putout, once on a flyball to center fielder Nick Banks, who does not possess the arm of a Michael Taylor. The Astros were awarded the 2018 Mills Cup on the basis of a single game, ending their two-year tenancy at Jim Perry Stadium with a “championship” for the dozens of fans who showed up.