The Augusta GreenJackets' pitching staff boasted the best ERA in the Minor Leagues this season. They were even better in the postseason.
Scott Barnes tossed six strong innings and Nick Noonan delivered a key two-RBI single as the GreenJackets won their first South Atlantic League championship since 1999 with a 4-3 victory over the West Virginia Power at Appalachian Power Park on Thursday night.
"It makes me look like a smart manager," Augusta skipper Andy Skeels said. "When you get strong starting pitching and go deep in the games, it puts a lot of pressure on the other teams to execute late in the game."
Barnes (2-0) finished off a brilliant playoff run by Augusta starters by allowing two runs on five hits and three walks with four strikeouts. All tolled, the GreenJackets gave up five earned runs in the postseason.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound left-hander, who celebrated his 21st birthday by capping the GreenJackets' two-game sweep of Asheville with a 4-2 victory on Friday, escaped trouble with a pair of timely pickoffs in the championship clincher. He caught Eric Farris leaning too far off first base in the third inning and nailed Farris again at second to end the fifth.
"It's always a big game when you're trying to clinch a series," Barnes said. "But you have to stay focused on the task at hand. It's always a big help when you get an out with a pickoff, instead of having to throw a pitch."
After surrendering a one-out single to Steffan Wilson in the sixth, Barnes capped his outing by getting Caleb Gindl to hit into an inning-ending double play.
David Mixon followed with a perfect seventh and Andrew De La Garza worked around a single in the eighth, before surrendering a leadoff triple to Wilson to start the ninth.
With the tying run at the plate, De La Garza got Gindl on an RBI grounder to first and Zelous Wheeler on a roller to shortstop before striking out Curt Rindal to secure his third postseason save and set off a wild celebration as the GreenJackets piled on top of one another.
"I think it's been a culmination of a lot of hard work and determination on our staff and players' part," said Skeels. "Over the past three seasons here, we've really built a strong foundation for what we're trying to do in the Giants' organization."
Augusta broke on top in the opening frame when Thomas Neal drew a bases-loaded walk off West Virginia starter Evan Anundsen (1-1). Wheeler booted Garrett Baker's ensuing grounder to third, allowing Noonan, who had singled earlier in the frame, to score the GreenJackets' second run.
The Power answered on Matt Cline's two-out RBI single in the second, but Curt Rindal was nailed trying to get back to third on the play, marking the first of several key base-running blunders by West Virginia.
Noonan provided Barnes with a cushion in the fourth when he greeted reliever Reed Dickert with a two-out, two-run single to right for a 4-1 lead.
"It was a huge hit," Skeels said. "This is the most hitter-friendly park in the league and anytime you can get a cushion, it helps. Nick Noonan is going to have a bright career because he has been clutch for us all season and especially clutch during the playoffs."
Gindl belted a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the frame for the Power, who saw their league-leading offense limited to three earned runs over 18 innings against GreenJackets starters Craig Clark, Madison Bumgarner and Barnes.
"Everybody started clicking at the right time," Barnes said. "They both pitched great games in front of me. We all push ourselves."
Shane Jordan, Juan Ciriaco and Andrew Davis ripped singles for Augusta, which outscored its playoff opponents, 23-9.
Wilson went 3-for-4 with a run scored for West Virginia, which was beaten in the title series for the second straight season. Last year, the Power lost to the Columbus Catfish in the Finals.
Anundsen retired only two batters while yielding two runs -- one earned -- on two hits and two walks with two strikeouts.