Todd Lott had three hits, drove in a run and scored another as the Cardinals evened the Appalachian League championship series at a game apiece with a 7-2 victory over the Burlington Royals on Tuesday night at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
It was the fifth time in eight days the Cards won when a loss would have ended their championship hopes.
The deciding Game 3 is set for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Burlington Athletic Stadium. Johnson City will be going for its fifth Appy League championship since 2010. Burlington’s last title came in 1993 when the team was still the Indians.
“We just keep fighting,” Lott said. “We don’t want to go home yet. This is what we play for, the last game for the championship.”
NUNEZ GOES DEEP
Malcolm Nunez sealed the win when he hooked a two-run home run around the left-field foul pole in the seventh inning. The Cards’ third baseman, listed as one of the organization’s top prospects, got all of the ball and the only question was whether it was fair or foul. When the umpire signaled fair, Johnson City was up 7-0 and making plans to stay in North Carolina for one more night.
Jhon Torres got things going for Johnson City when he roped a two-run double into the left-field corner. His teammate, Carlos Soler, then contributed the most clutch kind of hit, a two-out, two-strike single up the middle to score two more.
The Cardinals were up 4-0 before Burlington came to bat. They added another run in the fourth on Lott’s soft single just over the first baseman’s glove.
Hector Soto made it count. The Johnson City starter held Burlington to three hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Soto came in with a 2.56 ERA in nine appearances for Johnson City and he looked every bit the ace. Three of his six strikeouts came in the third inning and 54 of his 86 pitches were for strikes. He was pulled after giving up a two-out single to Vinnie Pasquantino in the sixth.
“That’s outstanding,” Cards manager Roberto Espinoza said. “That kid, he’s been in that spot before against the Kingsport Mets and he executed the job. We asked him to do it again today and you saw what he did against this team. They have a nice, competitive team and he really performed.”
John Witkowski came on in relief and held Burlington in check until the eighth when he allowed a leadoff single by Jack Gethings and a pinch-hit double by David Hollie. Rafael Romero followed with a sharp hit down the right field line to score two runs, but Soler came up throwing and nailed Romero trying to stretch it into a double.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS?
With a chance to clinch the championship, Burlington used three pitchers in the first three innings after starter Noah Murdoch was ineffective at the start. The 6-foot-8 righty out of Virginia gave up four runs on three hits in the first inning. He also walked a batter, hit another and threw a wild pitch.