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Comeback Kids: M’s rally again, bring home Appy Title

IMG_3939The drought is over.

In walk-off fashion, the Pulaski Mariners ended the longest championship drought in the Appy League – 22 years to be exact –Thursday night at Calfee Park, coming from behind once again in a stunning 6-5 win over the Greeneville Astros.

The win gave Pulaski another postseason series sweep. They swept Bluefield 2-0 in the first round.

Doing what they’ve done for a majority season, the Mariners found themselves in another early deficit, falling behind 5-0 after the top of the third inning.

With ace and Appy League Pitcher of the Year Edwin Diaz on the mound, it was hard to envision the Mariners needing another comeback win.

But the right-hander struggled.

Diaz pitched into the third, but was replaced by Gabe Saquilon after issuing two walks to start the frame.

However, it was the second inning where things really unraveled for Diaz and the M’s.

Astros’ outfielder Marc Wik reached on an error by Tyler Smith at short to begin the second. Ariel Ovando followed with a four-pitch walk. Diaz retired the next two batters but allowed a two-out two-run double to Thomas Lindauer. Greeneville leadoff man Tanner Mathis followed suit with a two-run home run to right-center.

After Diaz’ two walks to start the third, Saquilon didn’t fare much better with his first two batters. He, too, walked the first two men he faced, forcing in the Astros’ fifth run. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Saquilon got some help from right fielder Wilton Martinez. Greeneville second baseman Juan Santana hit a fly ball to right which Martinez caught. Martinez’ throw – a one-hop strike to the plate – was in time to catch the sliding Chase McDonald tagging from third. Saquilon then wrung up Angel Ibanez to escape.

Down five, the Mariners didn’t panic. Good reason not to – they had trailed early in all three playoff games prior to Thursday night. They were down 3-1 in the first in game one with Bluefield and rallied for a 9-4 win, they trailed 4-1 in the fourth in game two with the Jays and rallied for a 6-4 victory, and they were down 2-0 after the first at Pioneer Park Wednesday night.

Five runs. Difficult but not impossible.

Especially with this Mariners team.

Pulaski chipped away with two runs in the third inning, thanks again to clutch hitting by Toby DeMello. The St. Mary’s College-product entered Thursday’s contest with six postseason RBIs. He added two more to his total with a two-run double to right, scoring Jeff Zimmerman and Wilton Martinez.

The Mariners plated another run in the fourth on a Zimmerman sacrifice fly.

The score remained 5-3 until the home half of the sixth. Joe Musgrove relieved Greeneville starter Luis Ordosgoitti and hit Dan Kemp with the first pitch. Moments later, Gabe Franca grounded a single inside the third base bag and advanced to second on Mathis’ throw trying to get Kemp at third. Aaron Barbosa followed with a two-hop smash to Lindauer at short, but the ball glanced off his glove into shallow center allowing Kemp and Franca to score, knotting the game at five.

The combination of Saquilon, Luis Pina, and Rafael Pineda flirted with danger in the late innings, but the trio managed to keep the Astros off the board. Pina allowed two men to reach in the top of the ninth, but Pineda got a three-pitch strikeout of Santana to set up Franca’s heroics.

Luke Guarnaccia led off the bottom of the ninth with a deep drive into the left field corner. The ball landed just inches fair and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Isaiah Yates – who replaced Martinez in the lineup in the 5th – laid down a beautiful bunt single putting M’s on the corners. The Astros’ Musgrove then intentionally walked DeMello to load the bags.

Dan Kemp struck out for the first out, and Musgrove battled back to a 2-2 count on Franca.

The rest, as it goes, is history.

Franca drilled the game-winning single – his second walk-off hit at Calfee in a two-week span – and got buried in a pile of Mariners in shallow right field.

Pineda (2-0) picked up his second postseason win to finish off an impressive first year of professional baseball. Musgrove (0-1) took the loss for the Astros.

The M’s outhit Greeneville 14-5, led by Guarnaccia (3-for-5, 2B, R), DeMello (2-for-4, 2B, BB, 2RBI), and the hero Franca (2-for-3, 2BB, RBI, 2R).

Pulaski’s Diaz allowed a season-high five runs (one earned) in two-plus inning of work. He allowed two hits, walked four, and struck out five.

Despite his rough outing, he and his teammates were all smiles. After all, they had just won the fifth title for Pulaski, dating back to 1948. Their last championship came in 1991 when Pulaski was an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

Pulaski can be called “Title Town” for at least a calendar year.

And the players get what they’ve wanted since day one next February at spring training.

Championship rings.

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