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06/10/2008 2:29 AM ET
Barons take South Division title
Birmingham solidifies early success by locking up postseason berth
David Cook, who leads Birmingham in batting, sealed the deal with a sacrifice fly. (Joy R. Absalon/MLB.com)

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The Birmingham Barons (38-27) wrapped up the first-half title in the Southern League's South Division with a 4-3, 10-inning win over the defending champion Montgomery Biscuits.

Robert Hudson led off the frame with a double and moved to third on a single by Victor Mercedes. David Cook lifted a sacrifice fly to clinch the title.

Birmingham put together a solid first half largely on the strength of a pitching staff that came into the night leading the league with a 3.59 ERA. Left-hander Clayton Richard posted a 6-6 record in 13 starts with an ERA of 2.47, best among the starting rotation. Right-handers Justin Cassel (5-3, 3.80), Carlos Torres (6-3, 3.95) and Kyle McCulloch (3-5, 4.48) round out a rotation which helped the Barons throw a league-best eight shutouts. Closer Jon Link leads the circuit with 17 saves and boasts a 1.85 ERA.

"There's a lot of unity on the ballclub," skipper Carlos Subero said. "The kids like each other and are willing to pick each other up."

Cook, a ninth-round pick in 2003, leads the club with a .313 average and 12 homers and has driven in 30 runs. After starting the season 1-3, the Barons finished the month of April with a 14-12 record and went 19-11 in May.

"Everything really clicked around the end of April and it really came together in May," Subero said. "Clayton Richard was just promoted to Triple-A [Charlotte], and hopefully there will be more promotions in the second half. We never lose sight of player development."

It marks Birmingham's first appearance in the playoffs since 2005, the final season in a league record-tying run of six straight postseason appearances.

Steve Conley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.