The South Bend Silver Hawks advanced to the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 2008 as they completed a 2-1 series victory over the Fort Wayne TinCaps with a 9-5 win on Monday night at Four Winds Field. The top of the order came up huge for the Hawks as right fielder and #2 hitter Socrates Brito went four-for-five with two runs scored and three RBIs, including a game-sealing three run triple in the bottom of the eighth. Third baseman and #3 hitter Brandon Drury had four RBIs of his own including a monster three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
The two starting pitchers picked up where their counterparts left off on Sunday by dominating the first few innings of the game. Hawks starter Aaron Blair (W, 2-0) allowed two baserunners over the first two innings with neither man getting past first base. TinCaps starter Joe Ross (L, 1-1) also got off to a good start, pitching around his own error in the second inning to keep the Hawks off the board.
South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, broke through first with a run in the third inning. Center fielder Breland Almadova hit a grounder to short that Tyler Stubblefield was unable to handle, allowing Almadova to reach first on the error. Hawks shortstop Andrew Velazquez nearly beat out a bunt but was retired on the sacrifice that advanced Almadova to second. Right fielder Socrates Brito ripped a single to center but Albreth Martinez charged the ball hard and fired a perfect strike to catcher Rodney Daal to nail Almadova at the plate for the second out of the inning. Brito moved up to second on the throw and third baseman Brandon Drury stepped to the plate. Drury grounded a single through the left side that scored Brito and gave the Silver Hawks a 1-0 lead.
Fort Wayne, the Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, evened the game with a run off of Blair in the top of the fifth inning. First baseman Luis Tejada grounded a single to left with one out and quickly advanced to second on a wild pitch. Stubblefield grounded out to first base and on the play, Tejada moved to third. With two strikes on Daal, Blair threw a breaking ball in the dirt that got through the wickets of Hawks catcher Michael Perez and allowed Tejada to score and tie the game at 1-1.
The pitchers duel evaporated in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Hawks pushed five runs across against Ross and knocked him from the game. Ross retired the first two batters of the inning before allowing Velazquez to single up the middle. Brito followed with another single up the middle that put runners at first and second. Ross' first pitch to Drury went to the backstop to put runners at second and third with two outs and drew a visit from TinCaps pitching coach Burt Hooton. The TinCaps elected to continue to pitch to Drury despite having first base open. Drury launched the first pitch after the mound visit deep over the left field wall, drilling the Hawks' Nest Team Store on the fly for a three-run homer. The homer was the longest hit at Four Winds Field this season, and most importantly, gave the Hawks a 4-1. First baseman Rudy Flores came up next and hit an infield single that was fielded by Ross. He turned and fired the ball well wide of first base and it went down the right field line and into the bullpen, allowing Flores to go to third. Ross intentionally walked second baseman Fidel Pena and was replaced by Ruben Mejia on the mound.
Mejia first faced designated hitter Roidany Aguila who ripped the first pitch he saw into left field for an RBI single and a 5-1 Hawks lead. Pena advanced to second on the play. Left fielder Justin Williams tacked on the final run of the inning on a ground ball single up the middle that scored Pena for a 6-1 lead. Perez made the final out of the inning (also his second out of the inning) on a fly ball to center.
Blair took a 6-1 lead into the top of the sixth inning but started to run out of gas in the oppressive heat. Designated hitter Mallex Smith led off with a ground ball single to center. He promptly stole second. Second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum singled on a grounder through the left side that advanced Smith to third. A visit to the mound by Hawks pitching coach Wellington Cepeda seemed to stem the tide as Blair induced a 5-4-3 double play ball from Martinez. Smith scored on the play to cut the lead to 6-2. Blair just could not get out of the inning as he allowed a single to third baseman Gabriel Quintana and an RBI double to the left-center field gap by right fielder Hunter Renfroe that cut the lead to 6-3. Hawks manager Mark Haley then went to the bullpen for Geordy Parra. Parra immediately surrendered an RBI single to left fielder Luis Domoromo that shrunk the Hawks lead to 6-4, but was then able to sit Tejada down on strikes to end the inning.
The TinCaps continued to chip away at the lead by plating a run in the top of the seventh inning. Stubblefield led off the inning with an opposite field double to right field. Catcher Daal dropped down a bunt that got past the pitcher and resulted in an infield single that also advanced Stubblefield to third. The Hawks went to the pen for Daniel Gibson who faced Mallex Smith. Smith hit into a 4-6 forceout at second that scored Stubblefield and made it a 6-5 Hawks lead. After a pitchout and several pickoff attempts at first, the Hawks finally caught Smith leaning and he was picked-off-caught-stealing at second 1-3-6-3-4-6-3 after a long rundown. Gibson ended the TinCaps rally by getting Tissenbaum to ground out to the shortstop to end the top of the seventh inning.
Kyle Winkler and Enrique Garcia combined to pitch a scoreless eighth for the Hawks. Mejia gave the TinCaps a chance to come back as he retired the final eight hitters he faced and did not allow a baserunner before being removed for lefty Chris Nunn with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Hawks added some critical insurance runs off of the Fort Wayne bullpen in the bottom of the eighth inning, once again striking with two outs. After Mejia struck out Aguila to start the inning, Nunn struck out Williams for the second out. Perez than fought off several pitches before lining a 3-2 pitch into center for a two-out single. This brought the TinCaps manager out of the dugout again and also brought Trevor Gott into the game in relief of Nunn. Gott's first pitch got away from him and hit defensive replacement Mike Lang in the back to put runners at first and second. Velazquez walked to load the bases. Brito came through with some two out thunder with a scalded bases-clearing triple to the left-center field wall on the first pitch he saw that gave the Hawks a 9-5 lead.
Jimmie Sherfy came in and closed out the game and the series for the Hawks with an impeccable ninth inning. He struck out Tejada and Stubblefield swinging as they chased nasty sliders in the dirt. Sherfy then sent the Hawks to the Midwest League Championship Series as he got a called third strike on Daal on his twelfth pitch of the inning to give the Hawks the 9-5 victory.
The Hawks will open up the Midwest League Championship Series at home on Wednesday night against Western Division Champions, Quad Cities River Bandits, the Class-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. Game 1 will be at 7:05pm on Wednesday night featuring Braden Shipley on the bump for the Hawks with Game 2 also taking place in South Bend on Thursday night at 7:05pm. Wednesday night will be Kids Eat Free Wednesday at Four Winds Field where kids 12 and under get a voucher at the gate for a free hot dog, chips, and a drink. Thursday night will be Thirsty Thursday where fans can enjoy $1 beer and soda all night long. There will also be fireworks Thursday night after the last home game of the season to celebrate the fantastic season the Silver Hawks have had.
Tickets will go on sale at 11:00am Tuesday, September 10th. The Hawks will be looking for their first Midwest League crown since 2005 so come on out to the park and help give the Hawks a critical home field advantage in games 1 and 2 against the Quad City River Bandits.