A convincing win on Friday put some of the past week's drama into perspective for Myrtle Beach manager Joe Mikulik.
"We've dealt with so much adversity throughout the year, but we've battled back the whole season. It's something we thrive off of," Mikulik said. "There's a lot of guys here trying to make a statement that we're not gonna die, we're not gonna quit."
Putting a controversial Game 1 loss behind them, the Pelicans clawed all the way back behind Chad James, who took a shutout into the sixth inning as Myrtle Beach beat Salem, 5-0, to advance to the Mills Cup Finals.
"It's a great feeling, it's a really good feeling, a total effort by everyone in the clubhouse," said Mikulik, who's in his second season as Pelicans manager after 13 years with Class A Asheville. "It's been a great season. Ever since we started out of Spring Training, we had a lot of movement through the system. A lot of guys move, a lot of interchangeable parts, but we haven't missed a beat. It's been fun."
James (1-0), a 2009 first-round by the Marlins, struck out seven and held the Red Sox to four hits and a walk over 5 2/3 innings for the win. Cody Kendall recorded four outs and Ryan Bores tossed the final two innings. Michael De Leon and Royce Bolinger each knocked in a pair of runs and Luis Mendez plated a run and scored another as Myrtle Beach advanced, despite being outhit, 5-4.
"James was very good tonight," Mikulik said. "He's not afraid, he competes. He mixes speeds, picks his pitches, and they never got locked into what he was doing."
The Pelicans, the Rangers' Class A Advanced affiliate, return to the Carolina League Championship Series for the first time since 2008 and will face Potomac, the team they lost to in four games seven years ago.
It wasn't an easy road past Salem, though. Myrtle Beach dropped Game 1 of the best-of-3 semifinals on Wednesday when Red Sox catcher Jake Romanski hit a controversial go-ahead homer in the 10th inning that led to an animated argument from Mikulik and three Pelicans ejections. Myrtle Beach bounced back in Game 2 on Thursday behind starter Luis Parra and Preston Beck's two-run double in a 4-1 victory.
"Things happen in baseball and sometimes in the heat of the moment, it's frustrating," Mikulik said. "We were disappointed by the first game, but everyone came into the clubhouse after and it was like it lit a fire, a fire was lit again. We stayed focused and we're not letting any adversity get to us.
"That's the biggest thing. The strength and mental toughness has been huge. You can't let it affect you. We played a very good Salem club, they're a good club. They have guys that scrap and fight and we executed and got the timely hits. It's a great feeling, no doubt."
Salem starter Cody Kukuk (0-1) was charged with three runs on two hits and four walks in two innings. He struck out three before Williams Cuevas surrendered the other two runs over 3 1/3 frames.
For Mikulik, the series played out as he anticipated, despite the frustrating call in Game 1. He said he had faith in his pitchers either way.
"They all bought into what we're doing. It's been nothing but a lot of fun," he said. "They love to win and compete, and we played as a team and it's a fun group to be a part of. I'm proud of all of them.
"This whole series, we pitched really well. I think we allowed three runs in the first game and one last night and zero tonight, so the whole staff pitched well. Our starters gave us six or seven innings and our bullpen does a great job. ... All our guys threw well and made them miss it. Our defense played well, we made plays and it was a total team effort."
Mikulik said he hasn't said much to his players about Potomac, a team that also won its division in both halves of the regular season. Game 1 of the best-of-5 Mills Cup Finals is Saturday at Myrtle Beach.
"We know they're a good team. They're coming and it'll be a tough challenge. Personally, I think the odds are against us, but that's how we like it," he said. "We wanna be the underdog and fight, and we have a great chance if we continue to play like we're playing. We have a chance to win this thing and pull it off."