Cardinals sweep way to Appy crown

Denton homers, drives in career-high five runs in Finals clincher

Johnson City celebrates its fourth Appalachian League title in the last seven years. (Johnson City Cardinals)

By Bob Sutton / Special to MiLB.com | September 7, 2016 11:32 PM ET

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Members of Bryce Denton's family have been die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fans for as long as he can remember.

Now he's done his part to bring one of their affiliates a championship.

Denton homered and drove in a career-high five runs on Wednesday night as Johnson City captured its fourth Appalachian League crown in seven years with an 11-6 victory over Burlington at Howard Johnson Field.

"Every day since I signed my contract last year, it's like a dream come true," the third baseman said. "I have been still learning. It has been a grind, figuring things out for myself."

Denton's three-run blast capped a five-run seventh inning that snapped a tie in Game 2 of the best-of-3 Finals. He drove in the Cardinals' first two runs with a second-inning double.

It hasn't always been smooth for the 2015 second-round draft pick, but he said he's sensed considerable progress along the way.

"It's just trying to get better," he said. "For me, it's slowing down and relaxing. I always knew I could play, I never doubted myself. It sure was a big reward to help the team win here."

Johnson City manager Chris Swauger said Denton's impact in the playoffs is an example of the growth the Cardinals made during the season as they won the West Division title on the way to another championship. Denton's most productive month was August when he slashed .287/.362/.404 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games.

"He's 19, struggles are going to be expected," Swauger said. "I give him credit, he's always working. I was really happy to see it pay off at the biggest moment."

Denton is heading to the organization's instructional league program in another week, but he made sure his break was a little longer.

"An extra day," he said, referring to the sweep.

The Cardinals won their fourth championship in seven years.

Johnson City lost starting pitcher David Oca to a blister in the fourth inning. Yeison Medina (1-1) picked up the slack out of the bullpen, allowing one run on one hit over four innings for the win.

"It wouldn't be a Johnson City Cardinals game if we didn't go down a couple of runs in the beginning," Swauger said after the Royals scored twice in the first.

Burlington, which owned the league's best regular-season mark with a team-record 42 wins, scored 20 runs in its semifinal opener against Princeton, then combined for 16 in the last four games.

"You don't want to go to Game 3," Denton said. "That team is good."

The Royals tied this one at 4-4, in the seventh on Kort Peterson's sacrifice fly. But Johnson City had the lead back before an out was recorded in the bottom of the inning.

"It was a quick swing," Burlington manager Scott Thorman said. "Everything is more magnified in the playoffs. The reality is we just got beat."

Jonathan McCray's leadoff homer in the fourth was the Royals' first long ball in four games. A switch-hitter, McCray led off the ninth with a blast from the other side of the plate.

Burlington remains without a championship since 1993, when it was known as the Indians. Every other current city in the league has won at least one title over the last 23 years.

"It was a tough way to end it," Thorman said. "But it was a fantastic season and a lot to be proud of."

Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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