Hockey has the playoff beard, but for West Michigan's Duane Below, it's all about the mustache.
Below, who started growing a mustache at the beginning of a personal seven-game winning streak, combined with Casey Fien on a two-hitter Wednesday as the West Michigan Whitecaps edged the Beloit Snappers, 3-2, in Game 2 of the Midwest League Finals.
The Whitecaps have won six straight playoff games and are a win from repeating as champions.
Below (2-0) yielded two runs on one hit and two walks, fanning 10 over seven innings.
The 21-year-old left-hander, who went 13-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 26 regular-season starts, has been unstoppable since late July, going 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA in four August outings. The left-hander hasn't lost since July 23 and joked his success is all about the mustache.
"In late July, I just wanted to switch things up [after two straight losses], so I grew a mustache and won my first start. I was going to shave, but the guys told me to go one more start and after I won the next game, I knew I couldn't shave it," he explained. "Here I am today with my [seventh] straight win since I grew it."
Below only faced trouble in the second when he issued a one-out walk to Gregory Yersich and Garrett Olson followed with a homer over the left-center field wall.
"I wasn't too frustrated after the homer, because [Olson] hit a good pitch, low and inside, and he got the bat on it and took it out," he said. "I gave up a homer against Lansing [in my previous start], and I was angry about that because I made a bad pitch and [Travis Snider] took advantage. Tonight, I just smiled because he hit a good pitch and there was nothing I could do."
The former 19th-round draft pick settled down after the homer, retiring 17 of the final 18 batters he faced, including getting Olson on a flyout to end the seventh. The only baserunner to reach during that stretch was Chris Cates, who drew a leadoff walk in the third.
"I knew I had to buckle down [after the homer] and I just tried to think of it as a 0-0 game and keep us in the game," Below said. "We have a very good team that is capable of coming back, so I just stayed focused and went to town the rest of the way."
He also said he continued to execute his game plan from his first-round playoff victory.
"It started against Lansing, where I was throwing strikes and letting them make contact and it carried over tonight. I have a great defense behind me and I was just trying to pitch to contact," he said. "I was throwing my fastball early and incorporating my curveball with the occasional change."
Fien relieved Below in the eighth and allowed a hit and struck out three over two scoreless innings to notch his third save.
With the Whitecaps trailing in the fifth, 2-1, Scott Sizemore stroked a two-out single to center field and scored on Jeramy Laster's triple. Laster, who is batting .346 with a league playoff-high 10 RBIs, scored the go-ahead run on catcher Yersich's errant pickoff attempt.
Below hopes he can shave as soon as the series wraps up. West Michigan can clinch the fifth title in team history on Thursday in Beloit.
"It's gone after the series. I am bringing my clippers on this road trip and looking forward to shaving it," he said.
Snappers starter Tyler Robertson (0-1) surrendered three runs -- one earned -- on six hits and one walk while striking out nine over six frames.