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Matz pitches Gnats to Sally League title

Mets prospect goes 5 2/3 innings, caps scoreless postseason
September 13, 2013

Savannah needed only two hits to end a 17-year championship drought and turn Friday the 13th into a lucky date.

Steven Matz struck out nine over 5 2/3 innings and Stefan Sabol hit a two-run double as the Sand Gnats blanked Hagerstown, 2-0, to win their first South Atlantic League title since 1996.

Matz (2-0) held the Nationals' Class A affiliate to four hits and a pair of walks before Paul Sewald, rehabbing Mets reliever Jeurys Familia and Beck Wheeler combined for the final 10 outs. Wheeler retired Pedro Severino on a foul pop to set off the celebration at Grayson Stadium.

Savannah won the best-of-5 Championship Series in four games and shut out the Suns over the final 19 innings in registering three straight victories.

"Our pitching staff is a great thing, from starting to the relievers to the closer," Matz said. "It all starts with [pitching coach] Frank Viola. He works with us on attacking hitters, just throwing strikes, trusting your stuff, the whole nine yards. It starts with him and ends with us."

The start of the game was delayed by rain for 82 minutes before Matz faced off with Hagerstown's Dakota Bacus. The Mets' 2009 second-round Draft pick issued leadoff walks in each of the first two innings, then gave up three straight singles to load the bases in the third.

"I was trying to do a little too much early. I walked a couple guys. But my changeup was working pretty good and I had good life on my fastball," said Matz, who escaped the third-inning jam by recording back-to-back strikeouts and retiring Mike McQuillan on a line drive to shortstop.

Matz (1-0) was lights-out in the postseason, yielding only five hits while striking out 17 over 12 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's a good way to end the season, definitely, for me and the team," the 22-year-old left-hander said. "It's been a lot of fun."

Bacus (0-1) matched Matz until the fourth when he walked Mets No. 5 prospect Brandon Nimmo, No. 9 prospect Dilson Herrera and Cole Frenzel to load the bases. Sabol doubled to left with one out to produce the game's only runs.

Savannah won back-to-back SAL titles as the Cardinals in 1993-94 and beat Delmarva for another crown two years later but had been winless since.

The Sand Gnats won the Southern Division first-half crown to clinch a playoff spot but went 34-35 in the second half before sweeping Augusta in two games to advance to the Finals. Hagerstown took the opener, 6-1, but Savannah's pitching staff took over in the final three games as the Sand Gnats outscored the Suns, 14-2.

"Luis Rojas, it was a blessing to have him as our manager this year," Matz said. "We didn't get too high, didn't get too low. He stuck with us, trusted us. He knew we could do it. He knows we mean business. And that's how it panned out."

The Suns were seeking the first championship in team history. They lost to the Sand Gnats in the Finals in 1994 and to Kannapolis in 2005.

Danny Wild is an editor for