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BayBears repeat as Southern champs

Bolsinger tosses seven shutout innings; Griffin hits solo shot
September 14, 2012
Turner Ward didn't know how to feel.

Two years ago, the Alabama native was promoted from hitting coach to manager for the Diamondbacks' Double-A affiliate in Mobile. He was happy, and no one could blame him.

On Friday night, his BayBears blanked Jackson, 1-0, to win their second straight Southern League championship, becoming the third team since 2006 to successfully defend its title.

While his players raucously celebrated the historic victory, Ward retired to his Hank Aaron Stadium office, where he sat and mulled what had just occurred on his home turf. He was coming up empty.

"I don't even know," he said. "I tried sitting down and thinking about it and trying to relish it. But I'm still really trying to understand it. We knew we'd be in the playoffs, but it's so tough at any level, at any place, in any sport to go back-to-back."

If one thing was clear, it was that Mobile rode its pitching when it mattered in both of its Championship Series appearances.

Last year, D-backs' top prospect Trevor Bauer allowed a run on three hits and struck out seven over five innings in the title clincher against Tennessee.

It was Mike Bolsinger's turn on Friday.

The 24-year-old right-hander gave up three hits and struck out five over seven innings to earn his second postseason win. His first was an 11-4 triumph over Montgomery that sent Mobile on to the Finals.

Bolsinger (2-0) allowed only two Generals to reach scoring position and neither got past second base.

That became even more important after the third inning, when Jonathan Griffin gave Bolsinger a lead with his second playoff homer. Bolsinger was battling Jackson starter Anthony Fernandez (0-1), who gave up just the one run on three hits in 6 1/3 frames.

In 23 starts between Mobile and Class A Advanced Visalia -- including the semifinals win -- it was only the second time that the University of Arkansas product had gone at least seven full innings. And that type of clutch performance caught his skipper's eye.

"He really stepped up tonight," Ward said. "His fastball was really good to start, his breaking stuff was sharp. All of it really kept the hitters off-balance, and that helped keep us in what was a really close ballgame."

Eury De La Rosa struck out three and walked one over 1 2/3 hitless innings and Bo Schultz shut the door by getting Mike Zunino --'s No. 49 prospect -- to fly to right for the final out.

"When it comes to close games like these, it's your bullpen that makes you a championship team," Ward said. "You have to know that your starting pitcher isn't going to go nine innings every time, so you have to get some good quality innings from your guys in the 'pen. I can't say enough about what those guys did for us tonight."

The BayBears, who earned a playoff spot by winning the first-half South Division title, finished 29-41 in the second half. They yielded only four runs in winning the final three games of the Finals after dropping the opener, 8-1, at Jackson.

"To win it in the fashion we did, the way the guys battled, they played the best ball of the whole season the last two series," Ward said. "It all came together -- hitting, starting pitching, bullpen pitching. It all clicked just at the right moment."

Matt Davidson, the D-backs' No. 4 prospect, was named MVP of the Championship Series. His two-run walk-off homer in the 10th on Thursday left Mobile one win from the title.

Even as the superlatives flowed Friday night, Ward admitted he was still at a loss when it came to explaining the BayBears' historic achievement. Then again, he knew exactly what his next step would be -- a chance at a three-peat.

"You can't help but think of it," he said. "When this has been your life, it's what comes up. We're trying to teach these guys not just to win but how to win. The Diamondbacks are doing a great job at trying to create that type of atmosphere with the importance of winning. And we're a part of that."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to