When Mitch Hilligoss grounded out to second base to end the sixth inning of Charleston’s Tuesday night game with Columbus, his teammates started talking about figuring out a way to get the third baseman one more chance. Thanks to their patience, Hilligoss got another opportunity and he made the most of it, doubling in the bottom of the eighth to extend his hitting streak to a South Atlantic League record-tying 35 games.
With a hit tonight against Columbus, Hilligoss would have the longest hitting streak in the minors since Joey Cora hit safely in 37 games with the Pacific Coast League’s Las Vegas club in 1989. The minor league record is held by Wichita’s Joe Wilhoit, who hit safely in 69 games in 1919.
When Hilligoss grounded out with Charleston holding a 6-1 lead, the River Dog players knew that the third baseman would be lucky to have one more shot at extending his hitting streak. The needed to get at least three of the next eight batters to reach for Hilligoss to get one more out.
“Everyone got together,” Charleston manager Torre Tyson said. “I told everyone they were taking a strike. Some guys took up to two strikes. They did everything they could to get on base.”
Seth Fortenberry and Chris Malec walked in the seventh, but catcher Craig Albernaz picked Malec off first base. Pitcher Wilton Noel continued to struggle with his control in the eighth, which was good news for Charleston, as the River Dogs needed to get at least two men on for Hilligoss to get another chance. Kyle Anson walked to start the inning, but was then nearly picked off first base, gaining a reprieve only because the rundown throw was tossed into center field. Josue Calzado followed with a walk and Wilmer Pino singled to load the bases.
So as Chris Kunda stepped to the plate, he knew that only a triple play could keep Hilligoss from getting another chance. He played it safe, taking pitch after pitch before popping up in foul territory. Given another chance, Hilligoss lined the ball to the opposite field, placing it a foot inside fair territory for a double as the entire River Dogs dugout cheered. As Tyson explained, last night’s effort turned what was an individual record into a team accomplishment.
“I think that’s what it turned into last night,” Tyson said. “The whole time everyone was standing up in the dugout watching. Last night it turned into a team thing.”
Over the streak Hilligoss is hitting .360 (54 for 148) with 11 doubles and a triple. He’s raised his average from .208 to .327 during the streak and he’s now hitting .327/.368/.413 overall. He did fail to get a hit in the May 1 game, but he didn’t get an at-bat either, as he entered the game in the bottom of the ninth as a defensive substitute, so the hitting streak was not affected.