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Cardinals walk off with Game 1 win09/03/2011 10:05 PM ET
By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com
Neal Pritchard's previous walk-off hit was a home run, but his latest may stay with him for a long time.
The Cardinals prospect delivered a game-winning single in the ninth inning as Johnson City rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Bluefield Blue Jays in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Appalachian League Championship Series.
The defending champion Cardinals trailed by a run heading to the ninth, but Breyvic Valera hit a leadoff triple off Blue Jays reliever Josh Lucas (0-1) and scored the tying run on Matthew Williams' sacrifice fly. Tyler Rahmatulla followed with a single and Gary Apelian walked, setting the stage for Pritchard.
"I was just praying for an opportunity to get in there and get something accomplished," he said. "I saw [Lucas] was struggling with his command and I was going to make him throw strikes. He started me off, 3-0, and I knew he was going to throw three fastballs. He threw the first two for strikes, so I knew that third fastball was coming and I just found the hole."
The 22-year-old infielder had entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth.
"I knew that I might have the opportunity to make a difference," he said. "I was just trying to keep my composure as the inning progressed and I just tried to keep myself prepared and make the best of it."
Pritchard, who signed with St. Louis as a non-drafted free agent on June 14, believed his last walk-off hit was a home run in high school. Saturday's, he admitted, was "a little more memorable."
Trying to win back-to-back championships for the first time since 1975-76, Johnson City fell behind early as Bluefield's Kevin Pillar hit a three-run homer in the first. The Cardinals, however, limited the Blue Jays to one hit over the final eight frames.
"It was definitely huge. We fell behind early and then our starter [Jose Padan] bore down, the bullpen came in and kept us in it," Pritchard said. "We kept looking up there [at the scoreboard] and knew we weren't out of it. We knew our defense was going to keep us in there and we had the opportunity to pull it out in the end."
The Cardinals will take their 1-0 series lead into Bluefield on Sunday, looking to wrap things up on the road.
"It's tremendous for us because it takes the wind out of them," Pritchard said. "More importantly, we needed to get this win at home, having to go to their place for two."
Pasen allowed both hits and fanned two over five innings. Chris Constantino struck out four over three hitless frames and Michael Santana (1-0) earned the win with a perfect ninth.
Apelian doubled twice and drove in a run, while Rahmatulla reached base three times and scored twice.