Class A Short Season State College manager Johnny Rodriguez has been around baseball long enough to know what type of players he wants and needs on his team. He's been able to get that as part of the St. Louis organization.
Danny Hudzina hit a two-run homer and three pitchers made the lead stand up Monday night as State College defeated visiting Hudson Valley, 2-1, to sweep the best-of-3 New York-Penn League Championship Series.
It marked the second title in three seasons for the Spikes, who beat the Staten Island Yankees in the semifinals to advance to their third championship in four years. State College finished the regular season with a league-best 50-26 record.
Despite that impressive mark and crown, Rodriguez has been most proud of the fact that his players came out on the winning side.
"For me, it's my second championship in five years," the Spikes skipper said. "This team, at least compared to other clubs I've had, they had such a slow heartbeat. It was a team full of guys with blinders on and slow heartbeats.
"We lost some key players to promotions, but the next man up always went out there and got the job done. We were not the most talented team in this league. But they all went about their business and got the job done."
After being blanked in Game 1, 3-0, Hudson Valley scored once in the first Monday. Miles Mastrobuoni led off with a triple to center field off State College starter Jordan DeLorenzo. With one out, the 24-year-old southpaw walked Nathaniel Lowe and plunked Jim Haley. Jose Rojas' infield single scored Mastrobuoni, but DeLorenzo stuck out Angel Perez and Rays' No. 29 prospect Chris Betts.
Rodriguez said holding the Renegades to a run in the first was key.
"They had a chance to break the game open," he said. "But we got out of it with just the one run allowed. We were down, 1-0, against a real good team and pitcher [Travis Ott]. But I told the guys, 'That's it. No more.'
"I think it also went back to our previous series against Staten Island. That series made us better. They challenged us in every way, but we kept fighting back. Then when I saw how we handled [the Game 1 win] yesterday with a good and energized crowd [at Hudson Valley] on their side, I knew we were going to get it done."
In the second inning, Ryan McCarvel walked. With one out, Hudzina, St. Louis' 10th-round pick in this year's Draft, fouled off the first pitch from Ott (0-1) and then unloaded for a two-run homer to left.
Rodriguez said his team's quick response after falling behind jived with his concept of a strong ballclub.
"I think the camaraderie we had this year played a major role," the 60-year-old manager said. "When we slumped a bit and lost our lead in the middle of the season, I told the guys, 'We don't need heroes or super men. I need a team that pulls for one another.' I never panicked and have tried to impart that on all my teams. Just go work, no matter what happens the night before. Get back to work. They took it to heart and that was the way they played over the last 30 games of the season.
"I didn't need a [Barry] Bonds or an [Albert] Pujols," Rodriguez added. "I needed the Kansas City Royals from last year. In other words, a team that plays together. They know the signs, they execute the plays, know the fundamentals and anticipate things. That's what I needed and that's what I ended up seeing."
DeLorenzo allowed one run on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in four innings. Greg Tomchick (1-0) yielded two hits and a walk over four scoreless frames.
Brady Bowen struck out the side in the ninth to notch his second save as a Cardinals affiliate racked up its second championship in the fledgling postseason. Rookie-level Johnson City won the Appalachian League crown on Sept. 7.
"People talk about the Cardinal way," Rodriguez said. "It's simply made up of makeup and grinding. That's how you stay competitive year in and year out. You draft grinders with makeup and slow-heartbeat guys. That's the Cardinal way."