Ferguson, Express book trip to PCL Finals

Astros outfield prospect homers, drives in three to back Whitley

Triple-A Round Rock will play in the Championship Series for the third time in the past 14 years. (Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs)

By Duane Cross / MiLB.com | September 8, 2019 7:36 PM

It was the most gut-wrenching series of manager Mickey Storey's career but the next stop for his Triple-A Express: the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.

Houston outfield prospect Drew Ferguson bashed a homer and drove in three runs as Round Rock doubled up Iowa, 10-5, on Sunday at Principal Park to win the best-of-5 semifinal series, 3-2.

Video: Round Rock Express keep rolling

"I have never endured anything like that," Storey admitted. "[Iowa] is so comparable to us, it was an even matchup. Every way you slice it, it was close."

Through four games, both teams scored 15 runs and Round Rock outhit Iowa, 33-29. Both teams won a contest in extra innings. "Believe me, I'm relieved to get out of there [with a win]," the first-year Express skipper added.

The Cubs scratched out three runs across the first two frames against second-ranked Astros prospect Forrest Whitley. The right-hander gave up two hits and walked four before striking out two in a 1-2-3 third.

Gameday box score

The 2016 Draft first-round pick was sidelined in May with shoulder fatigue. After missing about six weeks, Whitley began rehabbing through the system and was promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi on Wednesday.

"To get Forrest to be able to start Game 5, it was like an ace in the hole," said Storey, who led Class A Quad Cities to the Midwest League postseason last year. "I was able to really budget the bullpen. He ran into a high pitch count and we were able to turn to Ryan Hartman, who had been a starter all year for us."

The lefty picked up the win after allowing a run on six hits and one walk while punching out five across five innings.

Video: De Goti puts Express ahead

"Some guys who are starters all year then don't get a start in the postseason take it as a negative," Storey noted. "I told Ryan he was going to throw some big innings in this series. I had all intentions of him finishing the game. He just rolled with it -- pounded the zone and escaped when he had to."

Round Rock racked up seven runs in the third, highlighted by Alex De Goti's three-run homer and a two-RBI double by Nick Tanielu off righty Trevor Clifton.

Donnie Dewees' two-out, run-scoring single cut Iowa's deficit to 7-4 after four innings.

In the sixth, the Express picked up a pair of insurance runs on Ferguson's homer over the left-center wall against right-hander Craig Brooks to extend the lead to 9-4.

Chas McCormick stroked a solo blast to left off southpaw Wyatt Short in the eighth to cap Round Rock's scoring.

Iowa's final tally came on a one-out solo blast by Vimael Machin against Hartman in the eighth.

Complete playoff coverage

"It's easy for these guys to get overlooked with Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker on the roster when they were here," Storey said of the highly touted prospects now with Houston in the Majors. "But 1 through 9 in the lineup, the guys walk, hit .280-.290, have double-digit home runs, steal bases ... it's an all-around offense.

"Our offense will never match up with El Paso or Las Vegas, just because of the ballparks," he said, "but we have a good offense too."

Whitley, MLB.com's No. 16 overall prospect, lasted four frames and yielded four runs -- three earned -- on four hits and five walks. He whiffed six. He tossed 88 pitches, 51 for strikes.

Clifton (0-1) gave up six runs on five hits and two walks across 2 2/3 innings. He struck out one.

2019 MiLB include

The PCL Championship Series begins at 9:35 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Sacramento.

In other Pacific Coast League action:

River Cats 7, Aviators 3

Giants' 27th-ranked prospect Abiatal Avelino homered to lead off the game and Joe McCarthy and Zach Houchins added first-inning long balls as the River Cats clinched a berth in the Championship Series. Cristhian Adames tacked on an RBI triple in the fifth as Sacramento took the best-of-5 series, 3-2. A's No. 21 prospect Jonah Heim lofted a solo dinger while Dustin Garneau and Cameron Rupp added RBI doubles for Las Vegas. Gameday box score

Duane Cross is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DuaneCrossMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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