Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Zagunis’ hot bat helps Myrtle Beach Pelicans beat Lynchburg Hillcats

Myrtle Beach’s Mark Zagunis celebrates his second home run of the night against the Hillcats on Friday.
Myrtle Beach’s Mark Zagunis celebrates his second home run of the night against the Hillcats on Friday.

Mark Zagunis started the game on fire with a lead-off solo home run in the first inning.

The Pelicans right fielder didn’t let up, either.

Zagunis collected four hits – including two home runs – to lead Myrtle Beach to a 7-4 win Friday over the Lynchburg Hillcats at Field at Pelicans Ballpark.

“Just came out swinging tonight,” Pelicans manager Mark Johnson said of Zagunis. “Zagunis hit a homer on the first pitch of the game and we came out with a lot of energy and got up some runs.”

After Zagunis’ leadoff solo home run in the first, Pin-Chieh Chen scored later in the frame after Jeimer Candelario grounded into double play to give Myrtle Beach a quick 2-0 lead. Zagunis hit his second homer of the night in the third inning and the Pelicans added four more runs in the frame to take a commanding 6-0 lead.

“It ain’t easy. [Zagunis] was ready to hit the fastball and he got it and didn’t miss,” Johnson added. “Just a good night at the plate.”

The Hillcats scratched and clawed to put up three runs in the fifth inning. After Candelario was charged with an error on a routine double play ball, Luigi Rodriguez hit an RBI single off reliever Zach Cates to get things started. Then, Nellie Rodriguez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for another run and Eric Haase was walked with the bases loaded as Lynchburg cut its deficit to three, but none of the runs was earned to Myrtle Beach.

The Hillcats added another run in the seventh on another Rodriguez RBI single to cut their deficit to 2 – but that was as close as they would get.

Myrtle Beach’s Tyler Skulina received a no-decision as he allowed three runs (none earned) and walked six while striking out one in four hitless frames. Cates picked up the win as he struck out four, gave up two hits, one walk and hit two batters in two innings out the bullpen.

“Tough one for Skulina as he struggled throwing strikes today,” Johnson said. “On the pitching side of things we didn’t do a very good job. We didn’t do a very good job at all; we walked 10 and hit two [batters] and let them right back in the game when we had complete control over it from the get-go. Those things happen but we kept scratching.”

That they did.

Candelario redeemed himself in the eighth inning with a solo home run to give the Pelicans a 7-4 lead and some insurance. Then, Myrtle Beach reliever Jasvir Rakkar picked up the save as he struck out three in 1 2/3 perfect innings.

“Candy hit that other home run to give us a little cushion, which was big,” Johnson said. “Then Rakkar came in and did a great job.”

The Pelicans have a 2 1/2-game advantage over the Salem Red Sox – who beat Winston-Salem 5-3 Friday – in the Carolina League Southern Division standings. Myrtle Beach’s magic number is now 1 with three games left and needs just a win or a Salem loss to clinch.

“Everybody wants to [clinch],” Johnson said. “That’s something you work for since spring training, that’s what you work for every year is to get in situations like this. Everybody is excited and extremely focused.”

Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.