PORT CHARLOTTE-- The Charlotte Stone Crabs huddled in the outfield of Charlotte Sports Park Thursday night, listening to the public address system, awaiting the news of the season. After defeating the Palm Beach Cardinals 1-0 earlier in the night, all the Stone Crabs needed was a St. Lucie loss to clinch the best second half record in the South and a spot in the 2013 Florida State League postseason.
With the broadcast of the Jupiter-St. Lucie ballgame piping through the speakers in center-field, the team awaited anxiously for a final. Once the final out was recorded in Jupiter's 12-3 victory, the team was sent into pandamonium, and the Crabs were sent into the playoffs.
"This was the most gratifying season I have been a part of," manager Brady Williams said after the celebration.
After starting the year 8-22 in the first 30 games, the Stone Crabs kept their core roster in tact, and have since ridden a 57-32 record (36-26 second half record) into the franchise's first postseason appearance since 2010.
"At 8-22, you are looking at yourself and asking 'am I really that good?'" Williams said. "The tenacity of these guys to grind it out and work hard...it payed off for them in the second half."
"Lot of hard work, lot of adversity to overcome," Williams later added. "It wasn't pretty all the time, but we did a solid job of finishing games out."
Entering the night, Charlotte needed a win and a St. Lucie loss to clinch the final available playoff spot in the South. The Stone Crabs took care of their part with a 1-0 defeat over the Palm Beach Cardinals earlier. Despite three games left and Palm Beach being only three games behind in the standings, even if the Cardinals win the remaining games, they would still finish percentage points behind the Stone Crabs for first place.
Charlotte will play the Fort Myers Miracle in the first round of the playoffs for the right to advance to the Florida State League Championship series.
Thursday night's ballgame focused around strong pitching from both sides. Ryan Sherriff (L, 4-4) earned a tough luck loss, allowing just one unearned run in seven 2/3 innings of work.
The lone run of the ballgame came in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Jake Hager reached first base on an infield single. On the play, Cardinals' shortstop Alex Mejia threw the ball into the stands down the first base line, advancing Hager on to second base on the throwing error. Two batters later, Richie Shaffer drove Hager home with a base hit to shallow right-center field.
Four Charlotte pitchers combined to shut out the Cardinals on five pitches. Felipe Rivero started the game for the Stone Crabs, and worked four 2/3 scoreless innings before leaving with an injury in the top of the fifth. Shay Crawford, Andrew Bellatti, and Nate Garcia (S, 11) combined to close the door and finish the ballgame for Charlotte.
Palm Beach's best chance to score came in the eighth inning. Charlie Tilson lined a triple down the right field line off Andrew Bellatti with one out. Bellatti bounced back, however, striking out David Popkins and forcing Jacob Wilson to fly out to left-field, ending the inning.
The Stone Crabs still have three games left in the regular season, including Friday night's home finale against the Cardinals. First pitch at Charlotte Sports Park is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.