Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman has made a point of praising his team for its resilience this season.
That never-say-die attitude was on full display in the opening game of the Southern League Championship Series on Monday night.
J.C. Boscan delivered an RBI double in the top of the 10th inning as the Braves rallied from a three-run deficit to edge the Carolina Mudcats, 5-4, at Five County Stadium.
"I just think that's the key word, resiliency," Wellman reiterated. "I probably overused that word this year, but this team is the epitome of resiliency. They just keep chipping away and getting big hits."
Mississippi, which rebounded from a 30-40 first half by going 43-26 to grab the second-half South Division title, appeared headed for an 0-1 deficit in the best-of-5 series before once again refusing to go quietly.
After Southern League Most Valuable Player Gaby Sanchez gave the Mudcats a 4-1 lead with a two-run single in the fourth, the Braves went to work. Javier Guzman shaved the deficit to two with a run-scoring groundout in the fifth and Van Pope delivered an RBI single in the sixth to make it 4-3.
Kala Ka'aihue evened things up with his first homer of the postseason to lead off the eighth, a mammoth blast over the wall in left-center that was estimated at well over 400 feet. Schafer followed with his second double of the night, but Mississippi was unable to push across the go-ahead run until Boscan's big hit in the 10th.
After Schafer and Reid Gorecki flied out to start the decisive frame against Todd Doolittle (0-1), Pope drew a walk to bring Boscan to the plate. While Wellman was figuring out what he would do if the 28-year-old catcher managed to get on base, Boscan reached out and drilled a 3-2 pitch into the right-field corner.
"That was big," Wellman said. "We had a tough decision to make if he would have walked or got a single. We would have probably had to pinch-hit [for the pitcher]."
Pope, who was running with the pitch, got the green light to head home and slid in safely as right fielder Scott Cousins' throw took a high hop and bounded away from catcher Brad Davis.
"It was a fastball away," Boscan revealed. "I saw [Pope]
running and just tried to hit one the other way. Luckily, I got it down the line and he scored."
Boscan, who opened the scoring for the Braves with a sacrifice fly in the second, enjoyed the postseason intensity in his 12th Minor League season.
"I'm really excited," he said. "It was a great game. We were down, but we never gave up. That's the way you win big games like this."
Luis Valdez (1-0) got Cousins to fly out to strand Sanchez on second in the ninth before striking out two in a perfect 10th for his first postseason victory.
Braves starter Deunte Heath gave up four runs -- two earned -- on nine hits and a walk with three strikeouts over four innings before Jonathan Venters, Sung Ki Jung, Bryan Dumesnil, Stephen Marek and Valdez combined to limit the league's winningest team to two hits the rest of the way.
Carolina's William Glen yielded two runs -- one earned -- on four hits and and a walk with four strikeouts over five innings, but Ryan Tucker absorbed his first blown save of the playoffs when he surrendered Ka'aihue's homer.
Sanchez finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs for the Mudcats, who outscored the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, 19-9, in sweeping their opening-round series.
"We all know better than to take anything for granted," Wellman added. "We'll come out tomorrow and go do our blue-collar routine."
Game 2 is Tuesday in Carolina.