Clearwater, FL - The Daytona Tortugas completed a two-game sweep of the Clearwater Threshers to win the Florida State League North Division Title with a 2-1 nail-biter on Wednesday night at Bright House Field.
The Tortugas will host the Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay Rays affiliate) in Games 1 and 2 of the FSL Championship Series on "Thirsty Thursday" and "Thirsty Friday" at Radiology Associates Field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m., and fans can enjoy Daytona's signature drink specials, featuring $1 12 oz. domestic drafts and small sodas. Playoff tickets are available ($8 General Admission, $12.50 VIP) at the Daytona Tortugas ticket office at 110 East Orange Avenue in Daytona Beach or by calling 386-257-3172.
Entering the North Division Series, the odds were not in Daytona's favor. Clearwater finished the regular season with the best record in the Florida State League (79-58), and became the first team since 2009 to win both the first and second half. The Tortugas entered the playoffs 6-11 against the Threshers, including a 2-7 record on the road in Clearwater.
Thanks to a pair of masterful starts from LHP Amir Garrett (7 IP, 0 R, 12 K) and RHP Nick Travieso (7 IP, 1 R, 5 K), those past matchups meant nothing. The Tortugas held the vaunted Threshers offense to one run -- it came on a solo homer from Rhys Hoskins in the fourth inning on Wednesday -- in 18 innings.
In the decisive Game 2, C Chad Wallach started the scoring with a two-out solo homer in the fourth inning. He sent a deep fly to center that cleared the 401 foot marker, but it was quickly answered by Hoskins' blast in the bottom half.
With the score still tied 1-1, Daytona rallied in the top of the seventh. After Clearwater turned two on a strikeout and a runner caught stealing, LF Jeff Gelalich reignited the rally with a single up the middle. SS Blake Trahan hustled to beat out a slow roller to shortstop, and the Tortugas had two men aboard.
Starter John Richy (L, 0-1) was pulled in favor of Alexis Rivero, who faced 2B Wendell Soto. Soto hit a grounder to the left side, which Mitch Walding cut off from third. His throw to first was far from perfect, but bounced in and out of Hoskins' glove. On what was ruled a missed catch error at first, Gelalich came around to score from second, and Daytona had a 2-1 lead.
Travieso (W, 0-1) looked stronger as the night went on, ramping his fastball up to 95 miles per hour in his final frame. He struck out Malquin Canelo to end his night in the seventh, and gave way to RHP El'Hajj Muhammad (H, 1). He struck out his first two batters but hit his third, and LHP Nolan Becker (H, 1) was called in to induce a flyout from Andrew Pullin to end the eighth.
For the second-straight night, RHP Alejandro Chacin (S, 2) closed the door in the ninth. The first two Threshers grounded out before a walk and a single put the tying and winning runs on base. Drew Stankiewicz pinch hit for Walding, but Chacin caught him looking at a two-strike breaking ball to send Daytona to the FSL Championship.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs will host Game 3 as well as Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) of the five-game series. Home field advantage in the FSL Championship alternates between the North and South winner each season. The Tampa Bay Rays Advanced-A Affiliate won the first half with a league-best 45-25 record, but struggled to an FSL South worst 24-41 record from there.
Still, Charlotte managed to upset the Palm Beach Cardinals, who clinched their playoff berth with a 43-25 record in the second half. The 'Crabs took Game 1, 14-1 in Palm Beach, and Game 2, 6-4 in Port Charlotte. The Tortugas finished the regular season with a 4-2 record against the Stone Crabs. In 2013, Daytona clinched the FSL Title at Charlotte Sports Park.