Christian Yelich accounted for five runs and closer Michael Bradley shut off Lakeland's ninth-inning rally Friday night as the Hammerheads claimed Game 1 of the Florida State League Championship Series, 6-5.
"I guess it looks like we like to get out to big leads, then make it interesting in the end, huh?" said Yelich, who's hitting .385 in four playoff games. "A win is a win. We'll take it."
The Marlins' top prospect went 2-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and two runs scored. He came home in each of his first two plate appearances and cleared the bases with a double to center field in the fourth that gave Jupiter a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers rallied in the final three innings, scoring two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth. They climbed within a run in the ninth and put runners on first and second with one out before Bradley got Tyler Collins to fly out to left field and struck out Wade Gaynor.
"The strikeout was big," Bradley said. "I knew [Gaynor] was trying to swing after the first two swings, so I tried to expand the zone a little bit and throw a ball and hoped he chased there. Luckily, he did."
"They made a good run at it," Hammerheads manager Andy Haines added. "We were up in the zone a little bit, but that is their lineup. They're here for a reason, too. That lineup is going to be hard to get through for nine innings."
Yelich led off the first with a single, just beat the tag at third after Marcell Ozuna singled to left field, then scored on Ryan Fisher's sacrifice fly.
The 2010 first-round pick scored again in the third when Fisher grounded out to second base.
"It was important to get ahead of those guys quick because they had not given up a run in the first two [playoff] games," Yelich said. "We got on top of them, 6-0, in the fourth and then had to hold on for dear life at the end there."
Jupiter loaded the bases with one out in the fourth against Flying Tigers starter Warwick Saupold (0-1) and Yelich greeted reliever Ryan Woolley with a three-run double to deep center field.
Lakeland pitchers had not allowed a run in 32 innings stretching back to the fourth inning of an 8-1 victory over Tampa on Sept. 1. The Flying Tigers blanked the Yankees to close out the regular season, then held Dunedin without a run in their two-game sweep of the North Division finals.
Terrence Dayleg was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored, while Fisher finished with two RBIs for Jupiter, which hosts Game 2 of the best-of-5 series on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. ET.
Hammerheads starter Zach Neal (1-0) shut out Lakeland for six innings and ended up allowing two runs on seven hits over seven.
"It is nice to go out there and know you have a six-run lead," said Neal, a 2010 17th-round Draft pick. "You can attack with your fastball, throw strikes, and it is OK if they get a couple hits."
Friday marked the first time this season Neal pitched beyond the sixth inning.
Haines lauded the effort by his starter, who helped rest a bullpen that was taxed during its three-game South Division series against St. Lucie.
"What we went through the last three nights in St. Lucie, that limits you a little today, so that even magnifies what Zach Neal did out there tonight," Haines said. "Who knows how much that is going to help later on in the series?"
Lakeland spoiled Neal's shutout in the seventh as Curt Casali led off with a double and scored on James Robbins' triple. Hernan Perez followed with an RBI groundout.
"It's not how I wanted to start the inning," Neal said. "At that point, I was trying to limit the damage. I knew our bullpen could hold them there."
The Flying Tigers, who registered six walk-off wins over the final two months of the season, rallied again against reliever Scott McGough in the eighth but came up short in the ninth.
"We were one hit away from tying the ballgame, an extra-base hit away from winning the ballgame," Lakeland manager Dave Huppert said. "The club out there is not going to quit, they're going to play hard through all nine innings. It takes 27 outs and they played all 27 outs."