To say the Grasshoppers clinching a division title came out of nowhere might be an understatement.
Christian Yelich homered and scored twice as Greensboro scored three times in the 10th inning to defeat Kannapolis, 9-6, and clinch the South Atlantic League Northern Division on Monday.
The Grasshoppers, who held a 6-5 lead heading into the ninth inning, wasted no time reclaiming the lead. After Ryan Fisher grounded out to open the top of the 10th, Noah Perio doubled and scored the go-ahead run on Marcell Ozuna's RBI single. Following an intentional walk to Yelich, Terance Marin flied out to center for the second out. Jacob Realmuto doubled, plating Ozuna and Yelich, before Daniel Black grounded out.
"Obviously we had it right in front of us and you have to give Kannapolis a lot of credit they wouldn't go away," Greensboro manager Andy Haines said. "[Greensboro] came out again late in the game, we just kept playing and did our thing and it worked out for us. I couldn't be happier for these guys."
With Hickory losing to Greenville, 11-4, Greensboro moved into a tie for first place. Rather than play a one-game playoff to determine the division winner, South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa determined that by winning the second-half series, 2-1, the Grasshoppers were the division champs. It will be the franchise's first trip to the playoffs since 1999.
Greensboro won 20 of their last 26 games, dating back to Aug. 8. At the time, the club sported a 20-24 record. Haines, who called his club "resilient," praised their second-half effort.
"The guys were really excited, but at the same time, you can tell the guys were not exhausted but the stretch took a little out of them," Haines said. "I think at the same time they realized we are not finished.
"We had a great first half and we were very disappointed to not make the playoffs. We knew we were capable of this, some of the things the guys have done are pretty remarkable. There's nobody more deserving that these guys here."
One of the keys to the Grasshoppers' success has been the performance of Yelich, the Marlins' No. 3 prospect. The former first-rounder batted .356 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 59 second-half games and finished third in the league batting race with a .312 average.
"He was a mainstay in the three-hole," Haines said. "We ask a lot of him, for a young player to experience a first full season they have to fight to get to the finish line. He just kept getting better every day. He has a lot of qualities that are beneficial to him. All of those things came out late in the season and showed up every day."
Ozuna, who finished 3-for-5 with a solo homer, has also been a key contributor. A year after leading the New York-Penn League in homers, the 20-year-old outfielder finished fifth in South Atlantic League with 23 longballs.
Robert Morey capped a resurgent second half by fanning a career-high 10 batters while allowing two runs -- one earned -- over seven innings.
"Just to see him bounce back after the rough first half he had, to see him finish up the regular season like he did ... it was a rather impressive outing at a time we needed it," Haines said.
Michael Brady (7-1) earned the win in relief, allowing a run on two hits in 1 1/3 innings. Jordan Conley gave up a leadoff single to start the 10th, but fanned the next three batters to earn his third save.
In South Atlantic League action:
Augusta GreenJackets 3, Rome Braves 2
Taylor Rogers allowed two runs on eight hits over seven innings and Devin Harris drove home the go-ahead run with a fifth-inning single to lead the GreenJackets to a second-half Southern Division title. Box score