DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- Starting pitching led Class A Advanced Charlotte to the postseason, and it has the Stone Crabs one win away from their first Florida State League championship.
In Charlotte's first three playoff games, Brent Honeywell, German Marquez and Chih-Wei Hu allowed a total of three runs over 21 innings. For their next act, the Stone Crabs sent out Buddy Borden to face Daytona in Game 2 of the FSL Championship Series on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
The 23-year-old from Las Vegas gave up two singles and a sacrifice fly over seven innings, recording a season-high eight strikeouts and leading Charlotte to a 6-1 win and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series.
"Our other starters set the tone," said Borden, who issued one walk. "It built confidence that if they can do it, so can I."
Borden (1-0) was perfect through three innings, inducing four groundouts and racking up five strikeouts his first time through the Tortugas order. After a walk and a single in the fourth, he faced the minimum the rest of the way and retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced. Daytona hit only four balls out of the infield with UNLV product on the mound.
"It was the best preparation for a ballgame I've seen this year," Charlotte pitching coach Doc Watson said. "He was completely focused, he had a purpose with everything that he did and he took it out to the ballgame. He located both sides well. When he fell behind in counts, he was able to soften some pitches up, get back even and put hitters away."
The Stone Crabs clinched a postseason berth on June 14 and cruised to a league-best 44-25 first half. They had a commanding division lead after two months, thanks to a league-leading 2.18 team ERA in April and May. Highlighted by a seven-inning no-hitter on May 13, Borden was 7-3 with a 2.18 ERA entering the All-Star break, and earned a spot on the South Division roster. A 2013 seventh-round draft pick out of UNLV, Borden was acquired by the Rays from the Pirates for Sean Rodriguez last December.
"The first half was great," Borden said. "The second half was all about getting better to be able to go out and perform in the playoffs. I used that as a stepping stone, and I'm really glad it all came together tonight."
Charlotte sent nine batters to the plate in the second, plating three unearned runs. A pair of two-out errors sparked the rally, and the Stone Crabs got creative from there.
Kean Wong rolled a beauty of a bunt down the third base line, which third baseman Taylor Sparks overran for an error. Rays No. 22 prospect Justin Williams scored from second on the play, giving the Stone Crabs had a 1-0 lead. With runners on the corners, Armando Araiza dropped down another bunt to score Pat Blair from third. Hector Guevara capped the inning with an RBI single to center.
Facing a Tortugas offense that has totaled six runs in its first four playoff games, Charlotte's 3-0 advantage was a comfortable one. Pat Blair padded it with a sacrifice fly in the third and a two-run double in the seventh.
Granden Goetzman went 3-for-5, tallying as many hits as the entire Daytona lineup. The 2011 second-round pick is 9-for-14 with a homer in the postseason.
The winner of Game 1 in the FSL Finals has gone on to win the title nine times in the last 10 years. The only exception was Lakeland, which beat Jupiter in five games in 2012.
Hunter Wood gets the start on Saturday night in Port Charlotte in search of a title-clinching win. Borden said he sees no reason the Stone Crabs can't keep rolling.
"We've got a great guy going tomorrow. We have just as much confidence in [Wood] as anyone else," he said.