After a dominant pitching performance buoyed Class A Kannapolis in its playoff opener, the staff ensured the team would advance to the South Atlantic League Finals with a strong effort in Game 2.
Blake Hickman allowed one run on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts over five innings to lift the Intimidators to a 3-1 win and a sweep of Greensboro on Friday at Intimidators Stadium. Three relievers combined for four hitless frames as Kannapolis reached the Championship Series for the first time since 2005.
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"It's exciting, obviously. It's playoff baseball," Kannapolis manager Justin Jirschele said. "It's a great atmosphere in Kannapolis, we've got some great fans. And I'm just excited for the guys that they were able to experience this and have some success early on here and move onto the next round."
Hickman set down the first six batters before Jarett Rindfleisch led off the third with a double. He reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Rony Cabrera and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jhonny Santos. That was all the Grasshoppers got against the 23-year-old, as he yielded just two baserunners over the next two frames.
Jirschele was impressed with the way Hickman and White Sox No. 29 prospect Luis Martinez -- who tossed five scoreless innings in Game 1 -- handled themselves on the hill.
"It all starts with that, getting the quality starts from both Luis Martinez and Blake Hickman," Jirschele said. "It was absolutely huge. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Kannapolis tied the score when Gavin Sheets belted a leadoff homer in the fourth off Ethan Clark (0-1). With two outs in the frame, Zach Remillard delivered a two-run single to left field.
After Hickman exited, Danny Dopico, Ben Wright and Kevin Escorcia combined to yield two walks with nine punchouts. Jirschele's bullpen did not surrender a run over eight innings in the semifinals.
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"It was just next man up," he said. "We've got a lot of great arms down [in the bullpen] and we're fortunate enough to have confidence in a lot of guys down there. They know they have a job to do every day and each and every night when they get in there. They're a confident group in each other and we're confident in that as well."
Now, Jirschele and the Intimidators are looking forward to potentially giving Kannapolis its first league title in 12 years.
"Anytime you have a chance this late in the year in the playoffs to continue playing and getting under the lights for extra baseball here, it's exciting," the skipper said. "These guys have been great this entire second half here. When the bell rings, they're ready to go. So we don't expect anything less from this crew. They know that we still have some business to take care of."
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The first game of the best-of-3 Finals is scheduled for Monday.
In other SAL playoff action
Charleston 2, Greenville 1
The RiverDogs broke a scoreless tie in the seventh with an RBI single from Diego Castillo and a run-scoring double from Brandon Wagner to pull even in the best-of-three series. Game 3 is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville. Box score