Franca's walk-off makes M's champs

Pulaski stuns Greeneville for first Appy League title since '91

Pulaski won its first Appy League championship since 1991. (Pulaski Mariners)

By Danny Wild / | September 5, 2013 7:52 PM ET

Gabrial Franca found himself smothered under a pile of bodies Thursday night after the biggest hit of his career.

He knew it would happen too.

"Once we tied it up and we were going to the ninth, we knew going in to the ninth we were going to win it," Franca said. "We knew we'd come out on top."

Franca made sure of that when he ripped a bases-loaded walk-off single off Astros reliever Joe Musgrove as Rookie-level Pulaski stunned Greeneville, 6-5, to win the 2013 Appalachian League championship at Calfee Park.

"It was just crazy," Franca said. "The dogpile, the champagne was spraying everywhere, we had music going ... it was crazy."

Franca, a second baseman in his first full season with the Mariners, knocked home Luke Guarnaccia with a line drive to right field after Pulaski loaded the bases in the ninth on a disputed leadoff ground-rule double to left by Guarnaccia, Isaiah Yates' bunt single and an intentional walk to Toby DeMello. The win marked the Mariners' first Appy League crown since 1991 and the fifth in franchise history.

"I'm still speechless, I don't know," the 19-year-old Franca said. "I was just went up there looking for a good pitch to hit. I got it -- and I had to battle with two strikes -- I just wanted to put it in play. That's what happens, like our manager (Chris Prieto) says, you win every pitch and good things will happen."

Drafted by Seattle in the 22nd round last year out of John North High School (Riverside, Calif.) , Franca was an unlikely hero for the Mariners after batting .213 without a homer and nine RBIs in 54 games this season. He went 2-for-3 on Thursday, singling in the sixth when Pulaski scored twice and tied the game after falling into a 4-0 hole.

Pulaski rode the arm of reliever Gabe Saquilon, who came on in the third and held the Astros to a pair of hits over 5 1/3 innings. Mariners starter Edwin Diaz was charged with five runs -- one earned -- on two hits and four walks before Saquilon entered and walked home a run in the third. 

"He shut them down through five and that was a huge help for us," Franca said. "He kept us in the game, got some ground balls and we just had to give ourselves a chance in those at-bats."

The win marked the second straight Appalachian League championship won in walk-off fashion after Elizabethton captured the title with a walk-off grand slam last year.

"I got crushed at the bottom of the dogpile," Franca laughed. "It's not my first, I had [a championship] in high school in 2011 when we won States, and I have a big ring from that. This reminded me of that, this team reminded me of that. We're a big family. we come out to win, we're with each other all the time, and when we one of us does good, we're all happy."

Pulaski general manager Ryan Kiel was uniquely happy as well -- Kiel pitched for Pulaski in 2010 and was hired this past offseason as the team's GM. He watched his team capture the Appy League East Division title with a 41-27 record this season, the best in the league. The Mariners won Game 1 of the series Wednesday when DeMello singled home the decisive run in the seventh in a game that featured a triple play by Greeneville.

Franca said the reality of his hit didn't sink in at first.

"It felt like we just won another game," he said. "We've had a playoff atmosphere all season. Our team plays to win every game. It was no different than any other win, besides that we had a huge dogpile and we'll have a ring on our fingers come Spring Training."

Greeneville starter Luis Ordosgoitti allowed three runs over five innings while Musgrove (0-1) was charged with three runs on seven hits over 3 1/3 frames. Rafael Pineda (2-0) recorded just one out in the ninth to pick up his second postseason win for Pulaski.

For Franca, a mediocre statistical season had a dream ending, and he'll take it.

"This was my first time in pro ball. It was really special for all of us, our coaches too, we did what they preached all season, no matter what the score is," he said. "I felt like I could have done a little better on the offensive side, but this is my first full season, so I'm not worried about that at all. I know what to prepare for next season, and when we win, that's all I care about."

Danny Wild is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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