TRENTON, New Jersey -- Like so many kids, Brandon Waddell would imagine himself pitching in big games when he was growing up. As he got older, his imagination became reality at the University of Virginia, for which he posted dominant performance after dominant performance in the College World Series. And now that he's in the Minors, it's no different.
The Pirates' No. 23 prospect continued his postseason dominance on Tuesday, scattering five hits while striking out six over six scoreless innings, as Altoona edged Trenton, 2-1, in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Eastern League Championship Series at ARM & HAMMER Park.
Video: Waddell notches sixth K for Curve
"I actually really enjoy [big games]. I enjoy having the ball in that situation and being able to go out there and compete," Waddell said. "It's something that as an athlete, you want to go out there and you want to play at the top level, you want to play the top competition and when you're in a championship series, it's essentially what you're doing."
Gameday box score
With a school-record six wins in a record 11 NCAA Tournament appearances during his time with the Cavaliers, Waddell earned the nickname, "Big Game Brandon." The 23-year-old said he's drawn on his experiences in Omaha when taking the mound in the Minor League postseason. He's pitched 19 scoreless innings in three playoff games across three seasons, one start with Class A Short Season West Virginia and two with Altoona.
Against Trenton, Waddell worked his way in and out of a couple jams. In the fifth, Rashad Crawford hit a leadoff double and was sacrificed to third by Francisco Diaz before the southpaw retired the final five batters he faced to cap another scoreless outing.
"I thought it was good," he said. "I felt pretty good, especially early on. The middle innings, I kind of took a step back in terms of rhythm and fastball command and stuff like that. I pounded it a little bit at the end. I felt good with the start, putting the team in a situation to win, and that's really what matters."
Mitchell Tolman knocked in the game's first run when he slapped a single off the glove of second baseman Abiatal Avelino that trickled into right field and scored Michael Suchy. Elvis Escobar provided a key insurance run in the seventh when he singled home Casey Hughston, giving him four RBIs in four playoff games.
Video: Tolman drives in run for Curve
"Unbelievable. To have a guy like [Escobar], he's swinging it well, he's swinging it well with runners in scoring position," the 6-foot-3 hurler said. "You just enjoy watching him play."
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Yankees No. 18 prospect Thairo Estrada got Trenton within 2-1 with an RBI single in the eighth, but Tanner Anderson worked around a double in the ninth for his first playoff save.
Dillon Tate (0-1) -- the Yankees' 14th-ranked prospect -- started for the Thunder and allowed a run on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six frames.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Trenton.
Should the series go the distance, Altoona may need another performance from "Big Game Brandon."
"If they call my name, I'll be ready," he said.