Jeremy Hellickson tossed six strong innings Friday as the Columbus Catfish shut down the Augusta GreenJackets, 7-1, to sweep their South Atlantic League Northern Division playoff series.
Hellickson (1-0) yielded one run on four hits while striking out five. The 20-year-old right-hander nearly mirrored the pitching line from his July 25 start in Augusta, where he limited the GreenJackets to a run on three hits and two walks over six frames.
"I definitely didn't have my best stuff in the first few innings," admitted Hellickson, who was 13-3 with a 2.67 ERA during the regular season. "I wasn't getting ahead of any hitters and trying to nitpick too much. It seemed like most of my pitches were elevated."
Augusta took advantage and scored a run in the first. Emmanuel Burriss and Tyler Graham started the inning with singles and Burriss scored on on Brett Pill's groundout to third base.
The GreenJackets nearly added to their lead in the third after Joseph Dyche led off with a triple. Hellickson didn't buckle any further and escaped the jam with two ground-ball outs and a strikeout.
"I got a lot of help from my infielders in that inning," Hellickson said. "We brought our infield in halfway and [second baseman] Joey [Callender] made a great play on a tough hop for the first out. I finally got some bite on my curve to get a strikeout and another grounder to get out of it."
The Catfish finally broke through in the fifth, scoring seven runs with two outs. Quinn Stewart doubled and crossed home plate on Jairo De La Rosa's two-bagger. Maiko Loyola, who went 3-for-5, clubbed a two-run homer and Stewart capped the frame ripping a two-run triple over the head of Dyche in center field.
Hellickson retired six straight in his final two frames before Ryan Owen, Brian Baker and Neal Frontz provided three hitless innings to close out the win.
"I just started pounding the strike zone after we took the lead," Hellickson said. "My stuff was moving much better the more I threw. I got stronger late tonight."
Hellickson went 9-1 with a 2.70 ERA in the second half, including a span of six consecutive wins from July 19-Aug. 15. He didn't pitch past the sixth inning in any of those starts and attributes those wins to the Columbus 'pen.
"I have to give so much credit to our bullpen," he said. "They've protected a lead for me so many times this season. I haven't pitched deep into many games and left them with holes to fill. They always shut the door."
Augusta starter Benjamin Snyder (0-1) surrendered six runs -- three earned -- on seven hits while fanning four in 4 2/3 frames.
Columbus will play the winner of the West Virginia/Hickory series, beginning Monday.