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Unbeaten Thunder roar to the EL crown

Yankees' Double-A affiliate puts together perfect postseason
September 12, 2013

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As the final out settled into the glove of Trenton center fielder Mason Williams, playoff MVP Ali Castillo and Jose Pirela celebrated behind second base to mark the occasion.

A balanced offensive attack teed off on Harrisburg starter Nathan Karns and his bullpen as the Double-A Thunder routed the Senators, 11-4, to complete a three-game sweep in the Eastern League Championship Series on Thursday night.

Trenton won six straight in the playoffs, sweeping Binghamton to reach the Finals, and became the first Eastern League team since 1991 to go through the playoffs without a loss.

"We develop winners and winning-type baseball," said manager Tony Franklin, who picked up his third title in seven years at the Thunder helm.

Trenton stroked 16 hits, including six for extra bases, in the finale to end the season with nine wins in a row.

"It was special group of guys, probably the most special especially since they were so young," Franklin said. "They got hot at the right time."

Thunder starter Shane Greene (2-0), with a fastball around 93 miles per hour, gave up three runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings before switch-pitcher Pat Venditte took over in the sixth. Zach Nuding pitched the eighth and Branden Pinder closed out the game in the ninth.

"We had a great bunch of guys," Greene said. "We have a lot of heart."

No. 9 hitter Castillo homered and walked with the bases loaded to end the playoffs with eight hits in 20 at-bats. He had three RBIs in the win after hitting .218 in regular-season play.

"It is very emotional to be able to help the team win," said Castillo, through translator and strength and conditioning coach Orlando Crance amidst a very loud Trenton clubhouse.

Greene, 24, drafted by the Yankees in the 15th round of the 2010 Draft out of Daytona State College, went 8-4 for the Thunder after beginning the season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He also picked up the victory in Game 3 against the B-Mets in the divisional playoffs.

"My story is a little different. I have been an underdog my whole life," he said.

With five runs in the third inning, Trenton chased Karns (1-1), the No. 5 Nationals prospect who made three starts for the big league club this year. First, top Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez drove in Williams (No. 2) with a single. Then Sanchez crossed the plate on a triple to center by Tyler Austin (No. 3). A run-scoring wild pitch, Kyle Roller's RBI double and Ben Gamel's ended Karns' day, and a bases-loaded walk to Castillo capped the frame's scoring.

Castillo, who didn't go yard in 156 regular-season at-bats, smacked a two-run homer in the fifth as a light rain began to fall. Pirela crushed a solo shot off to lead off the seventh.

"We were definitely hot at the right time. You could never count us out," said Gamel, who reached base in all five of his at-bats Thursday with three singles and two walks.

"They had our number," Harrisburg skipper Matt LeCroy added.

David Driver is a contributor to