It was a clutch performance by Peter Maris on Saturday night, and the Rays celebrated in true Minor League fashion.
"The bus ride was a little wild on the way back, a lot of loud music and yelling," Maris said with a laugh. "It was cool."
Maris went 4-for-5 with a homer out of the leadoff spot and Alexis Tapia gave up a run over six innings on Saturday night as Rookie-level Princeton shut down Pulaski, 7-1, to advance to the Appalachian League Championship Series.
Maris, who went undrafted and signed with the Rays in June, hit a two-run homer to highlight a five-run second inning in the decisive game of the best-of-3 semifinal series at Calfee Park. Tapia (1-0) scattered five hits and a walk while striking out six to send Princeton to the Appy League Finals for the first time since 1998.
The Rays will face Greeneville in Game 1 on Sunday after the Astros stifled Kingsport, 3-1, in the decisive game of the other semifinal.
"I felt great. I had a good BP and I think that came over into the game. I think I got myself into good counts, got good pitches to hit," Maris said. "I think it was a good job by my teammates getting on base, and I was feeling good."
Maris, who turns 22 on Sept. 16, was close to celebrating his fifth birthday the last time Princeton played for the league title 17 years ago. The lefty-swinging third baseman, who produced multi-hit efforts in each of game in the series, led off the first with a single, slugged a two-run homer in the second, singled again in the fifth, reached on a fielder's choice in the seventh and added a run-scoring base hit in the ninth.
"I was trying to get a good pitch to hit," Maris said of his homer. "With Angel Perez on second, I was just trying to drive him in. I got a good count, got a fastball and put a good swing on it -- it went over the fence."
Tapia faced five batters over the minimum before Armando Bastardo struck out four over the final three innings for the save.
"He was amazing," Maris said of his starter. "He was lights-out and we played good defense behind him."
Maris graduated this spring from UC Santa Barbara and signed with Tampa Bay on June 15. He made his pro debut a week later and enjoyed his best game on July 29, when he went 5-for-5 at Bluefield. Saturday's homer was the second of his career and first since July 19.
"It feels great," he said. "I was swinging the bat well, so it felt great tonight."
The P-Rays dropped the opener of the best-of-3 series at home, 9-1, but came back to edge the Yankees, 3-2, on Friday. Princeton, in its 19th season as a Rays affiliate, hasn't won an Appy crown since 1994, when the Princeton Reds did it.
"That was a heartbreaker in the first game, but we played Pulaski pretty good throughout the season," Maris said. "We came out and took care of business."
Pulaski, which won the East Division title in its first season as a Yankees affiliate, was 26-9 at home. At 45-23, the Yankees owned the league's best record.
Maris said the Rays are ready for Greeneville in a series that will run through Tuesday, if necessary.
"We just ended the year with them and they took two from us, so that's still on our minds," he said. "Now we're going to go out and play some good Rays baseball."
In other playoff action:
Greeneville 3, Kingsport 1
Yhoan Acosta allowed three hits and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings and first baseman Connor Goedert hit a go-ahead two-run double to send the Astros past the Mets into the Championship Series.
Acosta faced two over the minimum for the win before Joselo Pinales and Luis Ramirez worked the final two innings to seal the series-clinching three-hitter.
Thomas McIlraith, the Mets' 20th-round pick in June, allowed all three runs on two hits and a pair of walks over 5 2/3 innings. Center fielder Ivan Wilson drove in Kingsport's lone run. Box score