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RockHounds Are Texas League Champions

Franchise Wins It's 3rd Title in 10 Years
September 16, 2014

The Journey Is Complete - - - RockHounds Are Champions!

Major League Baseball defines a perfect game as one "… in which no opposing player reaches base." The RockHounds wrote their own definition of the term Sunday, capturing the Texas League championship in a game that provided the "perfect" finish to a remarkable season. 

Nate Long and four relievers tossed a shutout, scattering nine hits and walking just one batter, backed by a pair of home runs from two players who have been the "faces of the franchise" for the last three seasons. Dusty Coleman's towering two-run home run to left field in the second inning … hit off Eddie Butler, the Colorado Rockies' # 2 prospect … would provide all the scoring "Nate & Co." would need, and Conner Crumbliss' solo shot to right in the fifth made the score 3-0. 

When the 'Hounds pushed the final margin to five runs, the storyline, again, was "perfect." Jeremy Barfield (a member of the club over parts of the last four seasons) and Matt Chapman (drafted by Oakland in June of 2014) each had an RBI in a two-run sixth inning. "Bar" opened the season with (Advanced-A) Stockton as a member of the Ports' bullpen. He asked for the opportunity to go back to the outfield (his original position), and the A's granted the request, returning Jeremy to the 'Hounds in early July. "Chappy" was, almost literally, packing his bags when the (Single-A) Beloit Snappers' Midwest League season ended. He got the call to join the RockHounds only after Jefry Marte was sidelined on the next-to-last day of the season. While there is no official playoff MVP, a strong case could be made for both Long and Chapman. Matt hit .310 in the playoffs, with two home runs and four RBI to go along with outstanding (and at times spectacular) defense at third base.     

   

WP: Nate Long (2-1, 1.02)

LP: Eddie Butler (0-2, 4.02)  

 

HR: RockHounds - Dusty Coleman (1st of the playoffs … 19th overall) A 2-run HR in the second (off Eddie Butler)

        RockHounds - Conner Crumbliss (1st of the playoffs … 11th overall) Solo in the fifth (off Eddie Butler)

 

Kibbles & Bits  

-     The Texas League championship is the fourth in franchise history and the third outright title. The Midland Cubs shared the 1975 crown with the Lafayatte (LA) Drillers (ironically, that franchise is now the Tulsa Drillers), while the three outright championships have come during the RockHounds era - - - 2005 (vs. Arkansas), 2009 (vs. Northwest Arkansas) and 2014. 

-     The Cubs ('75) and Angels ('95) each made one trip to the title series over a combined 27 seasons. The RockHounds (who became the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate in 1999) have now played for the TL championship four times in the last 10 seasons, winning three times.  

-     The championship was the franchise's fourth, but the first won at home. In a terrific gesture, the RockHounds asked that the "champagne bath" take place on the field. While the fans may not have actually been "doused," it was the first time any of the many veteran observers on hand could recall a team "sharing" that part of the traditional celebration (which did, of course, continue in the clubhouse).  

-     The "cast of characters" for any minor league club changes substantially from season to season, but the turnaround made by manager Aaron Nieckula and the RockHounds from 2013 to 2014 provided a storyline all its own. Last year's club finished 62-78 while the '14 RockHounds went 77-63 … second overall in the league and seventh-best in the 43-year history of the franchise … on the way to the title.  

-     Nate Long's success embodied the RockHounds' season. When starters Raul Alcantara and Tanner Peters were lost to injuries in April, Nate was summoned from the bullpen to, as pitching coach Don Schulze put it, "make a spot start or two and we'll see how it works." Long went on to make 25 regular season starts, leading the Texas League in wins (13), finishing fourth in strikeouts (126) and eighth in earned run average (3.18). In the playoffs, he elevated his game even higher, going 2-1 with a 1.02 ERA in three postseason starts.   

-     Relievers Marcus Walden and Frank Gailey were virtually perfect (that word, again) in the playoffs. In four appearances, Walden pitched 8.0 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit with no walks and nine strikeouts (he whiffed 9-of-25 batters with a .040 opponent average). Gailey was, literally, perfect in four outings, facing and retiring 15 batters (five by strikeout) over 5.0 innings.  Combined, the pair pitched 13.0 innings and allowed ONE base runner. Murphy Smith made three appearances for the 'Hounds, going 7.0 innings and allowing just one hit and one (unearned) run while walking three and striking out nine. While he took the loss in Game 3 of the TLCS, Jose Flores recorded saves in each of the three wins over Frisco in the division series and did not allow a run in five of his (league high) six playoff appearances.  

-     There is no better example of the "team" aspect of the RockHounds' championship than the hitter at the top of the lineup card Sunday. "The book" says you don't start a batter who is 1-for-16 in the playoffs in a decisive Game 5 of a series, yet that's exactly what Aaron Nieckula did. Conner Crumbliss entered the contest 1-for-16 in the postseason, but sharing the club lead with four RBI (plus five walks, three sacrifice flies, two sacrifice bunts and a hit by pitch). Conner's fifth-inning solo home run made him the team's playoff RBI leader (5).

-     Led by Crumbliss, eight RockHounds hitters had at least three RBI in the title run. Matt Chapman, Dusty Coleman, Kent Matthes, D'Arby Myers (who led the club hitting .313) and Kenny Wilson each drove in four, with Max Muncy and Daniel Robertson adding three each.  

-     The RockHounds hit eight home runs in the postseason (Chapman and Muncy each hit two) and also drove in three runs with bunts. The 'Hounds also showed patience at the dish, drawing a total of 37 walks in nine games. Jeremy Barfield, who hit .310 in the playoffs, drew nine of the bases on balls (and was hit by a pitch on a 3-2 count), leading the league with a postseason on-base percentage of .487.