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08/28/2008 9:35 PM ET
Odle pitches 'Jackets to division title
Right-hander tosses eight strong innings in 5-1 win over Crawdads
Former Oklahoma State righty Oliver Odle pitched Augusta back into the playoffs Thursday. (April L. Brown/AP)

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Oliver Odle made sure the Augusta GreenJackets returned to the South Atlantic League playoffs for the third straight year.

The 23-year-old right-hander fired eight strong innings and Dayton Buller homered and drove in three runs as the GreenJackets wrapped up the Southern Division second-half title with a 5-1 victory over the Hickory Crawdads at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Thursday.

"It feels like I can finally get some sleep," joked Augusta manager Andrew Skeels after his team's fourth straight victory. "I'm happy for the guys and, obviously, our coaching staff. It's a first step and we'll take it from there."

Odle (10-7), who had surrendered five earned runs on 14 hits over 13 innings in losing his previous two starts, was on his game against the Crawdads. He yielded five hits, including Tom Hagan's solo homer in the fourth inning, with seven strikeouts and did not walk a batter while matching the longest outing of his career.

"I think that's one of the things that's encouraging," Skeels said. "When something is on the line, he stepped up and pitched good after a couple of not really good outings. I think that bodes well for us as we enter the playoffs."

The Oklahoma State product, who also went eight innings against Savannah on May 23, helped the GreenJackets (44-21) lock up their second second-half crown in three seasons. They took the first-half title last year.

Andrew De La Garza struck out one in a perfect ninth for the Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, which will be bidding for its first Sally championship since 1999 during next month's playoffs.

"I think in a short series in the playoffs, the team that's hot and gets the pitching, you like their chances," Skeels said after his red-hot team improved to 27-7 since the All-Star break and climbed a season-high 36 games above .500.

"I think we've got a shot," he added. "I don't know if anybody knows it or not, but we've won the most games in the league. Only one or two teams in the Minors Leagues have more wins than we do. I have faith in a team that knows how to win."

Buller snapped a scoreless tie with an RBI triple in the second and scored on James Simmons' ensuing single. He belted a two-run shot, his third in four games, in the sixth before Shane Jordan added an RBI triple later in the frame to cap the scoring.

"That kind of let us breathe a little better and gave us a better margin," Skeels said of his catcher's fifth homer. "He's provided some leadership behind the plate for us. Guys like throwing to him and he's done a good job."

Hickory starter Michael Felix (4-7) dropped his fourth straight decision after surrendering three runs on four hits and five walks with three strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

Jordy Mercer went 2-for-4 for the last-place Crawdads (20-45), who will miss the playoffs after capturing the Northern Division second-half crown last season.

John Torenli 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.