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Noles, BlueClaws win Sally League crown

Lefty's career-high seven innings help Lakewood to second title
September 19, 2009
Korey Noles matched a career high with seven strong innings Friday night as the Lakewood BlueClaws beat the Greenville Drive, 5-1, to win the John H. Moss Cup as South Atlantic League champions.

Dusty Wathan, in his second season as a manager and first with Lakewood, guided the BlueClaws to their second Sally League title and first since 2006.

Rain delayed the start of the game for 33 minutes, but the holdup didn't faze Noles, a 2008 24th-round Draft pick out of Columbus State. The left-hander allowed one baserunner over the first four frames and ultimately yielded one run on six hits over seven innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter.

It was Noles' first appearance of the postseason and just his third outing with the BlueClaws overall. He pitched in five games for the Gulf Coast League Phillies and nine for the New York-Penn League's Williamsport Crosscutters before joining Lakewood in early September.

"In the bullpen warming up, I was kinda worried. I was a little bit nervous, but I just had to go out there and compete," said Noles. "This probably ranks at the top -- this feels amazing right now."

Leadoff man Anthony Gose keyed the BlueClaws' offense by singling twice, stealing three bases and scoring a pair of runs. The center fielder, who batted .407 in the playoffs, led all of the Minor Leagues with 76 stolen bases in the regular season. Lakewood paced the circuit with 210 steals and put pressure on the Greenville defense with five thefts in Game 4.

"When I'm on base, it gets everybody a chance to do something," said Gose. "I make things happen on the basepaths and give guys an opportunity to drive in runs. This is my first time being part of a championship team. It's amazing."

Gose led off the game with a single, took second on Harold Garcia's sacrifice, stole third and scored when Travis d'Arnaud grounded out to first baseman Kade Keowen.

Greenville committed only 135 errors during the season -- second in the league behind Lakewood's 111 -- but made three costly miscues in Game 4. The BlueClaws took advantage of a walk and two errors in the third to score twice and open a 3-0 lead.

Lakewood pushed another run across in a four-hit fourth to knock out Greenville starter Fabian Williamson. The 20-year-old left-hander, who went 10-5 with a 2.42 in the regular season, yielded four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits while fanning two over four frames.

The Drive made noise with two singles to open the fifth, but a strikeout and two flyouts ended the threat. Greenville finally got on the board when Mitch Dening singled with two outs in the seventh and scored from first on Keowen's double.

After the BlueClaws tacked on an insurance run in the eighth, reliever Austin Hyatt held Greenville scoreless on one hit over the final two frames to seal the championship.

Both clubs were first-half champions in their respective divisions that fell to fourth place in the second half before finding grooves in the postseason.

Strong pitching provided the edge for the BlueClaws in the playoffs. Lakewood held Kannapolis, which owned the league's best overall regular-season record, to two runs in a two-game sweep of the Northern Division finals, then limited Greenville to six runs over four games in the Championship Series.

John Parker is a contributor to