Asheville clinches Sally South crown

Tourists lose, 2-1, but snare title because of River Dogs' loss

By David Heck / Special to | June 13, 2012 10:09 PM

The Asheville Tourists might have backed into the playoffs, but they know that doesn't diminish what they accomplished over the first half of the season.

The Class A Tourists fell to the Greenville Drive, 2-1, on Wednesday but nonetheless clinched the South Atlantic League Southern's first-half crown.

Asheville got help from the Savannah Sand Gnats, who beat the Charleston RiverDogs, 3-2, to eliminate them from first-half contention.

"Obviously, it's a great accomplishment for these young men," Tourists manager Joe Mikulik said. "These players have played hard the first half. We've come out early and worked hard. It was one of our goals when we left Spring Training. ... Now we can stay focused trying to play well in the second half."

Asheville got a strong start from Ben Alsup, who allowed just two runs over seven innings Wednesday, but Drive pitching combined for an even better line. No. 20 Red Sox prospect Henry Owens allowed one run on two hits over 5 1/3 frames, while the bullpen tossed the final 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

It was a rare low-scoring game for the Tourists, who lead the league with 452 runs scored. The Hagerstown Suns possess the next-highest-scoring offense with 406 runs.

First baseman Harold Riggins is tied for third in the league with 11 homers, while shortstop Trevor Story has 10. Five regulars in Asheville's lineup own an OPS above .900.

"This offense is unbelievable from top to bottom," Mikulik said. "Even the guys that don't play a lot can contribute. That's one big plus with this ballclub, we have contributors one through nine. We've done the little things to win games, we're very good at situational hitting and our numbers speak themselves."

In 13 years at the helm of the Tourists, Mikulik said he's only won the first-half title once -- in 2008. As such, he's pretty excited about what this team could do in the playoffs.

"I'm very optimistic," he said. "We're in now, we're just going to wait for our opponent. And we'll try to win the second half as well. If we stay intact and this team stays together, we've got a chance to do some good things. That's something that's obviously our goal now, to win the whole thing. We won this but it's not the only thing we're shooting for."

David Heck is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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