After winning the Southern League South Division first-half title, its fourth straight half-season win, Pensacola finally broke through for its first Southern League championship.
The Blue Wahoos needed 12 innings but completed a three-game sweep of Jacksonville with a 6-5 victory that earned a share of the title after the Finals were canceled due to the impending threat of Hurricane Irma. The game was moved from Jacksonville to Pensacola to avoid the storm.
Video: Pensacola Blue Wahoos clinch co-title
"What a fantastic game, obviously going extra ininngs," Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. "It's a little diferent playing as the road team at home, but we were able to pull it out. It was probably less than the challenge for Jacksonville since they couldn't go home and play. [There were] challenges for both teams, but they made it really interesting."
With Pensacola down, 3-2, entering the eighth inning, Reds No. 20 prospect Gavin LaValley launched a one-out solo homer to left field. Sixth-ranked Reds prospect Aristides Aquino followed that with a go-ahead blast to left-center, but Marlins No. 26 prospect Austin Dean kept the Jumbo Shrimp's season alive with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.
After a scoreless 10th and 11th, Aquino put the Blue Wahoos in front again with a two-out single that scored Gabriel Guerrero.
Video: Aquino puts Wahoos ahead with clutch single in 12th
"That was huge," Kelly said. "We were down, 3-2, in the eighth, got the back-to-back homers from LaValley and Aquino to take the lead. Unfortunately, we couldn't hold it in the ninth, but those were huge at-bats. Aquino getting that single in the 12th, for a guy who's had his ups and downs this year, it was a great way to finish."
Gameday box score
Like many Double-A teams, Pensacola dealt with numerous promotions during the season, the biggest of which were right-handers Luis Castillo and Reds No. 4 prospect Tyler Mahle -- both of whom have made starts for the Reds -- and top prospect Nick Senzel, who was placed on the disabled list on Sunday. That trio helped the Blue Wahoos go 40-30 in the first half before sliding to 34-36 in the second, but they won their final six games, including the playoffs -- all against Jacksonville.
"I'm just so happy for the guys, they work so hard," Kelly said. "We had a big turnover at the half, with a lot of guys going up to Triple-A, a couple pitching in the big leagues now. The guys who came from [Class A Advanced] Daytona filled in pretty well. We lost Senzel the last week of the season, but everybody pulled together and we ended up winning six straight games to finish the season."
Pensacola starter Austin Ross allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings, while Marlins No. 18 prospect Trevor Richards gave up two runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts over five frames for Jacksonville.
Andrew McKirahan (1-0) tossed two perfect innings for the win after making nine relief appearances for the Blue Wahoos this year. He was returning from Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2016 campaign.
Complete playoff coverage
"What a great accomplishment for McKirahan to get the win, coming back from rehab [after missing] more than half the year before he joined us," Kelly said. "He didn't have many innings but ends up going two today to finish the game off."
In other playoff action
Chattanooga 2, Montgomery 0
Twins No. 7 prospect Felix Jorge gave up three hits over six innings as the Lookouts took a 2-1 lead in the other semifinal series. T.J. White homered for the third straight game to account for all of the offense for Chattanooga, which can win a share of the championship with a victory on Saturday night.