JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Once again, the Bristol Pirates will see the fate of their season come down to a single game.
The do-or-die scenario came to be after the Johnson City Cardinals pounded out 10 hits to take a 7-4 victory over the BriBucs on Saturday night in Game 2 of the Appalachian League West Division Championship Series at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
The decisive Game 3 is set for 5 p.m. today in Johnson City.
Bristol needed a win over Danville in the final game of the regular season on Wednesday just to reach the playoffs and prevailed.
A berth in the Appy League Finals will be on the line today in a winner-take-all showdown.
“We’ve got to come out [Sunday] with a little bit of fire and hopefully, we can get some business taken care of,” said Bristol second baseman Josh Bissonette. “I’m confident in our guys that we’ll sleep this one off, wake up and be ready to go [in Game 3].”
Superb relief pitching from Will Guay and clutch hitting from Jhon Torres were the keys for the Cardinals on Saturday.
A former standout at Concord University in West Virginia, Guay had earned his first win of his professional baseball career against the Pirates back on July 11 at DeVault Stadium. His first postseason win as a pro came against Bristol too as Guay struck out four in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“The fastball was on today pretty much,” Guay said. “I was hitting my spots and felt good out there.”
Torres hit a tiebreaking homer off Bristol reliever Ryan Troutman to begin the bottom of the fifth inning as the Cardinals took the lead for good. He also added a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.
Johnson City failed to get such timely hitting or strong relief pitching in Friday’s 5-4 Game 1 setback to the Pirates.
“It was nice to get one back from them,” Guay said. “It kind of slipped away from us in the first game.”
Francisco Acuna hit a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning to pull Bristol within 5-4, but Johnson City responded with two runs of its own in the bottom of the eighth.
Bristol got the potential tying run to the plate in the top of the ninth, but Aaron Shackelford grounded out against Cardinals reliever Dylan Pearce.
Bissonette had three hits for the Pirates, while Shackelford pounded out a double and a triple.
“I thought we did a great job of just competing,” Bissonette said. “But sometimes the game doesn’t work out.”
Right-hander Adrian Florencio (2-1, 4.75 ERA) will be the starting pitcher tonight for the Pirates.
“Anytime you have a power arm out there [like Florencio], it’s going to be huge for us,” Bissonette said. “I’m looking forward to it and I’m really confident in his abilities.”
Florencio will be making his third start against the Cardinals in 2019.
Overall, it will be the 12th meeting between the rivals this summer.
“It’s going to be nice,” Guay said. “The best team will win, I guess.”
Bristol has performed its best this season in the biggest games down the stretch and will once again take the field in a high-pressure, high-stakes contest.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” said Bristol manager Kieran Mattison. “These guys aren’t going to quit. We just have to stay calm, stay loose, compete and play it one pitch at a time.”
NOTES: Ken Waldichuk, Jhonatan Munoz and Hayden Wesneski combined for 18 strikeouts in a three-hit shutout as the Pulaski Yankees posted a 6-0 victory over the Burlington Royals in Game 2 of the Appy League East Division Championship Series. The deciding game between the teams will be played at 6:30 p.m. today in Pulaski. … Acuna’s homer was the first postseason blast for Bristol’s minor league team since Jeff Newkirk and Manny Lutz went yard for the Bristol White Sox in Game 2 of the 1998 Appy League Finals against the Princeton Devil Rays. … Bissonette is 5-for-8 in the first two games of the series. … Bristol is 6-5 against Johnson City this season … Chandler Redmond also homered for the Cardinals on Saturday. He has gone deep six times this season against the Pirates.