Jonathan Pettibone allowed one hit and recorded a career-high nine strikeouts over seven innings Saturday as the BlueClaws blanked the Hickory Crawdads, 6-0, to return to the SAL Finals.
"It feels great," the former third-round Draft pick said. "My confidence came from my manager trusting me to go out there for Game 3 and from knowing that I could go out there and compete."
After winning the decisive game of the best-of-3 series, the BlueClaws -- Class A affiliates of the Philadelphia Phillies -- will face the Greenville Drive in the best-of-5 Finals. The Savannah Sand Gnats were the league's last repeat champions in 1993-94.
"Greenville are a good team," Pettibone said. "We have had two four-game series against them and each one has been a battle. We have had a couple walk-off games and one-run games and they are great, both offensively and defensively.
"Everyone in Lakewood is excited and I think they would love it [if we repeated]. The fans and the community have been great and it would be a real honor to win the championship for them."
A potential showdown with the Drive was not on Pettibone's mind when he took the mound at FirstEnergy Park, but there was no doubt who would be representing the North Division next week by the time he left.
Pettibone faced just one batter over the minimum through five innings and took a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single to Travis Adair.
By then, the BlueClaws had a 4-0, fueled by a three-run opening frame. It proved more than enough for the 20-year-old right-hander. Batterymate Sebastian Valle slugged his second homer of the series and Jeremy Barnes delivered a two-out RBI single.
"Right off the bat, I had fastball command, so that was a positive. I established it early," said Pettibone, who was ninth in the league with a 3.49 ERA during the season. "Left-handed batters were swinging through my changeup and my slider was the best it has ever been.
"I was just trying to stay focused. We had plenty of runs, but I didn't want to back off."
Getting good pitching is nothing new for Lakewood. The BlueClaws used a league-leading 3.04 ERA to post a franchise-record 84 wins. In Game 1 of this series, Trevor May fanned a team playoff-record 13 en route to a 7-0 blanking of the Crawdads.
On Friday, Brody Colvin and Julio Rodriguez yielded an unearned run over eight innings but were matched by Robbie Erlin and Miguel De Los Santos, who combined for 16 strikeouts over 8 2/3 frames. Hickory scratched across a run in the 10th to force Saturday's showdown.
The first two games of the Championship Series are Monday and Tuesday in Greenville. The BlueClaws host the final three games, if necessary.