The Class A Greenville pitching staff delivered stifling performances throughout the South Atlantic League semifinals, but it was Drive manager Darren Fenster who was short on breathing room until Bobby Dalbec's big fly Saturday night.
"It was absolutely a huge hit," Fenster said. "Who knows how that game plays out?"
The 11th-ranked Red Sox prospect cracked a three-run shot in the eighth inning as Greenville took the decisive third game from Charleston, 5-0, at Fluor Field to advance to the Championship Series. The Drive will face Kannapolis in its first Finals appearance since 2010.
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"There are players that go their entire careers without ever getting to the postseason. Coaches, same thing," the 38-year-old skipper said. "While this was obviously not the end goal, this was definitely something to celebrate for us. Two wins doesn't get you a ring, but it gets you a little bit closer.
"I wanted them to appreciate it just because it is so tough to get to the point we've gotten to today."
Dalbec also singled and went 3-for-11 in the three-game series. The fourth-round pick in last year's Draft batted .246/.345/.437 in 78 regular-season games with 13 homers, 39 RBIs and 48 runs scored. The homer on Saturday night broke open a two-run game and proved to be clutch when reliever Joan Martinez walked the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth.
Video: Dalbec cracks three-run shot for Drive
"In a two-run game, you get one baserunner on and all of a sudden the tying run is at the plate," Fenster said. "That is a very different situation than one where a grand slam doesn't even tie the game."
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The RiverDogs totaled three runs in the semifinals and were held to four hits Saturday. Red Sox No. 29 prospect Hildemaro Requena walked three and struck out four over 7 1/3 innings before Martinez and Daniel Gonzalez finished up without allowing a hit.
Requena combined with Game 1 starter Darwinzon Hernandez (Red Sox No. 16 prospect) and Game 2 starter Bryan Mata (No. 15) to allow one run and 10 hits over 18 2/3 frames. Fenster said the effort he got from his starters was indicative of the team's idenity during the season.
"Our pitchers aren't strikeout pitchers, but they challenge contact," Fenster said. "They throw the ball over the plate and our defense has really been outstanding for the most part. Our pitchers have given us a chance to be in a lot of games with not the most prolific offense of all time."
The Drive took seven of nine regular-season meetings with Kannapolis, with each win coming in the final seven games of the series.
"You could throw out everything that's happened up until this point," Fenster said. "Those last two teams that are alive had to do a lot of things right to get to this point. We're looking forward to having another good series and, hopefully, we play well."
Game 1 of the best-of-5 Championship Series is Monday in Kannapolis.