Shortstop Pedro Ruiz forced in the game-tying run with a two-out, eighth-inning walk and second baseman Fidel Pena followed with an infield single to score the game-winning run as the South Bend Silver Hawks defeated the Lake County Captains 7-4. The Silver Hawks are the first team in all of the minor leagues to clinch a playoff berth this season and they have the best record in all of affiliated professional baseball.
Lake County (20-38) got on the scoreboard first with an early flurry of extra base hits. Second baseman Yhoxian Medina jumped on the second pitch of the game from Silver Hawks starter Kyle Winkler and smashed a triple into the right field corner. Shortstop Dorssys Paulino followed up with another triple, this time drilled on a line to deep center field that scored Medina. Center fielder Logan Vick followed up the triples with a double to right field, scoring Paulino for an early 2-0 Captains lead. Vick came around to score when Winkler threw a wild pitch and Hawks catcher Roidany Aguila threw the ball past the third baseman and into left field.
South Bend (42-17) got a run back right away in the bottom of the first inning. Pena led off with a walk. He then proceeded to steal second base and go around to third when the pitch got past the Captains catcher. Right fielder Socrates Brito drove home Pena with a hard ground ball that deflected off of the pitcher to the shortstop for a 1-6-3 force out, cutting the Captains lead to 3-1 after the first.
Winkler settled down after the top of the first inning as he held the Captains at three runs through his six innings of work. That was enough for South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the National League West leading Arizona Diamondbacks, to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning at 3-3. Center fielder Breland Almadova led off the inning with a walk. He came home when Brito laced a triple to right center field that made the game 3-2. Third baseman Brandon Drury followed Brito by doubling down the left field line, plating Brito and tying the game. Felix Sterling entered the game with Drury on second and nobody out. A passed ball immediately advanced Drury to third base. Sterling pitched his way out of the jam by striking two batters out and getting a fly ball to center field after intentionally walking left fielder Alex Glenn.
Lake County, the Class-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, got the lead back in the top of the seventh against South Bend reliever Will Locante. Third baseman Leonardo Castillo walked to lead off the inning. Locante struck out right fielder Jorge Martinez but strike three got past Aguila and Castillo advanced to second on the wild pitch. Left fielder Aaron Siliga walked and ball four was wild from Locante, moving Castillo to third base, and putting runners at the corners with one out. Thomas Brendel (2-0) entered the game in place of Locante to try to work out of the jam. Medina hit a sacrifice fly to right field off Brendel, scoring Castillo from third and giving Lake County the 4-3 lead.
The Silver Hawks rallied thanks to some wild pitching by the Lake County bullpen. Jack Wagoner (2-1) had pitched a scoreless seventh but unraveled in the eighth. Drury led off the inning with a four pitch walk. Designated hitter Rudy Flores singled to center moving Drury around to third. After Mike Lang entered to pinch run for Flores at first, Aguila struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Glenn walked to load the bases. Third baseman Carter Bell hit into a force out at third 5-2, as Lake County got Drury at the plate for the second out. Ruiz tied the game by working a seven pitch walk to force home Lang from third. Pena then drove in the go-ahead run by beating out an infield single to short. Almadova gave the Hawks some cushion by driving a single into left field to score two more runs and make the lead 7-4.
South Bend turned to Enrique Burgos (S, 4) to close out the four-game sweep in front of a season-high crowd of 6,784. Burgos threw a perfect ninth inning to extend the Hawks winning streak to eight games. Brendel got the win while Wagoner suffered his first loss of the season, surrendering four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings of work.
The Hawks begin a three-game series at the Great Lakes Loons, the Class-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, on Saturday night. They then head to Lansing for a four-game, three-day midweek series with the Lugnuts, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays before returning home to close out the first half of the season with a three-game series against the Dayton Dragons, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, on Friday, June 14th.