A 4-16 stretch late in the first half of the season nearly derailed Bowling Green's promising prospects for the 2013 season, but in the end, the Hot Rods' drive for the postseason couldn't be stopped.
The Rays' Class A affiliate put together seven-run rally in the eighth inning Sunday en route to a 9-4 win over Lake County to clinch the Midwest League Eastern Division second-half title. The Hot Rods improved to 43-26 in the second half and 81-56 overall, ensuring themselves of the best Eastern Division record this year as well as the best mark in franchise history.
"The players did a great job of finishing the season," manager Jared Sandberg said. "We had a little lapse there toward the end of the first half where we didn't play good baseball and were losing too many games.
"To finish the first half the way we did and have it carry over through now to the end of the season and wrap it up with the best record in our division and win the division, I think it's huge for the players."
The Hot Rots overcame a 4-2 deficit Sunday with a seven-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, thanks mostly to the team's patience. Leonardo Reginatto led off the frame with a walk against Jordan Milbrath. After Tyler Goeddel popped up, Justin O'Conner singled and Reginatto scored when Thomas Coyle reached on second baseman Zack MacPhee's fielding error.
Patrick Leonard walked to load the bases, and Lake County replaced Milbrath with Jack Wagoner. Marty Gantt, Ryan Dunn and Andrew Toles all were issued walks with the bases loaded, and then Brandon Martin was plunked by a Wagoner offering.
Cody Penny then replaced Wagoner. Reginatto plated Dunn with a sacrifice fly to center and Goeddel singled in Toles for the inning's seventh run.
Bowling Green's Marcus Jensen retired the side in order in the ninth to complete the clinch.
Sandberg said the rally was emblematic of the Hot Rods' patience at the plate. The team ranks second in the league with a .338 team on-base percentage.
"It's something our guys have done all year long, grind out the at-bats," he said. "We're not preaching for them to take pitches, not preaching to take a strike or anything like that.
"These guys know how to manage the strike zone. That's something they do very well. They grind out at-bats and drain the pitchers and run up the pitch count."
With one game left in the regular season, Bowling Green boasts a 3.07 ERA, best in the Midwest League by nearly half a run. The team's rotation has thrived despite losing Tampa Bay's top prospect, pitcher Taylor Guerrieri, to Tommy John surgery in July, as well as the promotions of rotation stalwarts Dylan Floro and Sean Bierman.
"Floro was leading the league in ERA (1.81), and then the injury to Guerrieri," Sandberg said. "You have to tip your cap to the pitching coach Kyle Snyder and how he's kept everybody going. You look at the year Jeff Ames has had, a really good year. You take a guy like Reinaldo Lopez, we took him out of the 'pen and made him a starter.
"We've had 'pen guys going in there and throwing strikes, promoting contact. They've been closing out at-bats and trying to get contact. The defense has been solid, and our pitchers bought into that and did a nice job attacking the zone. From an organizational philosophy, they're trying to learn how to throw a change and throw off-speed for strikes."
West Virginia 4, Lexington 3
West Virginia 1, Lexington 0
The Power swept their doubleheader with the Legends and when Hagerstown fell to Kannapolis, 5-3, in a rain-shortened affair, West Virginia snared the South Atlantic League Northern Division second-half title. Pittsburgh's No. 6 prospect Josh Bell homered in the opener, while Jimmy Rider drove in the other three runs.
In the second game, the Power scratched a run off Royals' No. 10 prospect Miguel Almonte and got a combined shutout from Clario Perez, Thomas Harlan (6-3) and Ryan Hafner. Luis Urena picked up the lone RBI with a two-out single in the second.
The Power improved to 44-25 in the second half, just edging the Suns, who won the first-half North title. Box score»
Everett 3, Spokane 2
The AquaSox staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth to stake claim to the Northwest League North second-half title. Phillips Castillo sparked the inning with a leadoff double and later scored on Lonnie Kauppila's groundout. Then Chantz Mack teed off for a two-run homer with two outs.
Everett moved to 20-17 in the second half, and having also won the first-half title, the AquaSox boast a division-best 43-32 overall record. Box score»