Chris Williams has played exclusively at first base with Rookie-level Elizabethton, despite being drafted as a catcher in June. But one thing that didn't change from college to the professional ranks has been his ability to hit the ball out of the park.
The Twins prospect has carried a hot bat through the Appalachian League playoffs, and he busted out his best weapon in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Championship Series. Williams had a pair of hits, including his first postseason homer, and scored twice as Elizabethton topped Princeton, 7-4, on Tuesday at Hunnicutt Field.
"It all started in the last game," Williams said. "I got really comfortable in the box and I just figured out something that felt good and it carried into today in [batting practice]. I just had a calm approach at the plate, not trying to do too much."
Williams bashed an Appy League-leading 15 homers and ranked fourth with 51 RBIs while batting .252/.372/.500 in 62 regular-season games. The strong pro debut came on the heels of his junior year at Clemson, where the 21-year-old rounded out his college career with 18 long balls, 72 RBIs and a .281/.401/.562 slash line.
Although he batted .229 in August, the eighth-rounder had hits in three of nine at-bats and drew four walks in the semifinals against Kingsport and improved his postseason average to .417 on Tuesday night.
"One of the things I really want to do is just slow the game down," Williams said. "In the postseason, guys really can try and speed the game up and try and do too much, and that's something I really didn't want to do. I want to do whatever I can to try and help my team win."
Following a two-out walk to Twins No. 14 prospect Gilberto Celestino in the first inning, Williams caught a two-strike fastball from Princeton starter Wanderson Linares and lifted it deep to left-center to provide Elizabethton with a two-run cushion.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play and connected with it and it felt really good," he said.
The Garden Grove, California, native flied to center in the third and led off the sixth with a base hit to left before scoring on Alex Robles' double to right. He was intentionally walked in a two-run seventh and struck out swinging in the ninth.
"I was swinging the bat really well today, I was seeing the ball well," Williams said. "[The intentional walk] is a sign of respect, but that's baseball, you got to play the game."
Elizabethton also got a go-ahead two-run homer in the fourth from designated hitter Jean Carlos Arias. Princeton had taken a 3-2 lead in the second on a two-run homer to by Jake Palomaki and Roberto Alvarez's RBI triple.
"Today didn't feel any different from any other game," Williams said. "We were calm, but [Arias' homer] definitely sparked us moving forward."
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Austin Schulfer (1-0) yielded four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts over a career-high seven innings for Elizabethton. The 19th-round pick sported a 1.58 ERA with 34 punchouts in 11 regular-season appearances, including seven starts. Jacob Blank issued two walks but recorded five of six outs via strikeouts to close out the win.
Elizabethton returns home with two chances to claim its second straight championship. Game 2 is Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.