South Atlantic League Championship preview

Columbus, West Virginia both seeking first league title

West Virginia's SAL-best offense is led by the league's top hitter, Andrew Lefave (.345). (Tom Priddy/

By Jonathan Mayo / | September 9, 2007 8:20 AM

West Virginia vs. Columbus
Power (82-54) vs. Catfish (82-53)
(Best-of-5 series begins Monday, Sept. 10)

One thing is certain about the 2007 South Atlantic Championship Series -- it will crown a first-time champion. Both the Power and Catfish are making their first trip to the postseason, and thus their first visit to the finals. Columbus swept Augusta to advance while it took West Virginia the full three games to get past Hickory. This series should prove to be a classic offense (West Virginia) vs. pitching (Columbus) matchup.

The two teams met just four times, with the Catfish taking three of four from the Power. The series took place in Columbus at the end of July and the beginning of August. The Catfish won the first two, and the Power answered back with a rout in the third game before Columbus took the series with a 2-0 shutout.

West Virginia
The Power managed just a .168 batting average in its series against Columbus. Andrew Lefave, not surprisingly, was the only player to hit better than .250, going 6-for-15 (.400). Brent Brewer hit West Virginia's two homers in the series and drove in four. Charlie Fermaint and Stephen Chapman were a combined 0-for-26. The West Virginia staff posted a 2.73 ERA, yet came away with a 1-3 record. Alexandre Periard got one of those losses, despite allowing just three runs -- two earned -- over six innings. Donovan Hand made one of the starts, also giving up two runs over six innings ... and losing. The lone win was recorded by Jeremy Jeffress, who is currently serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a "drug of abuse."

The Catfish hit .233 in the four-game series. Jairo De La Rosa hit .333 and drove in a pair of runs while Cesar Suarez went 6-for-16 (.375), also with two RBIs. Ryan Royster owned Columbus' lone home run in the series, but hit just 3-for-15 (.200) in the four games. Columbus was able to win three of the games thanks to its 2.25 ERA. Closer Neal Frontz picked up two saves in three hitless innings. Jeremy Hellickson went five innings, allowing two runs while winning his start. Heath Rollins was even better, tossing six shutout frames for a victory in his outing.

Game 1: Columbus at West Virginia
Heath Rollins (17-4, 2.54 ERA) vs. Alexandre Periard (7-7, 3.55)

Game 2: Columbus at West Virginia
Will Kline (0-4, 4.97) vs. Shawn Ferguson (5-1, 3.08)

Game 3: West Virginia at Columbus
Donovan Hand (1-2, 2.16) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (13-3, 2.67)

Game 4: West Virginia at Columbus (if necessary)
Mike Ramlow (5-5, 6.11) or Chris Toneguzzi (6-5, 6.20 ERA) vs. Ryan Morse (5-6, 3.99)

Game 5: West Virginia at Columbus (if necessary)
Alexandre Periard (7-7, 3.55) vs. Heath Rollins (17-4, 2.54)

West Virginia
Alexandre Periard's 3.55 ERA was good for 11th in the league. He won Game 1 of West Virginia's first-round series by tossing seven strong innings, allowing two runs -- one earned. RHP Shawn Ferguson went 5-1 with a 3.08 ERA, mostly as a reliever. He got knocked around in Game 2 of the first round, allowing four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. Donovan Hand had a 2.16 ERA with the Power, not allowing a single walk over 25 innings. He also picked up four saves in August. He started the decisive Game 3 for West Virginia and got the victory despite giving up four runs on 10 hits. West Virginia had a 4.50 ERA in its three-game series against Hickory.

RHP Heath Rollins tied for the league and overall Minor League lead with 17 wins. His 2.54 ERA placed him fourth in the SAL, and he was second in strikeouts with 149. He won Game 1 against Augusta in the first round by allowing just five hits and one run in seven innings. RHP Jeremy Hellickson was right behind Rollins with a 2.67 ERA. He had a 13-3 record as hitters managed just a .214 average against him. He finished off the first-round sweep by allowing one run on four hits over six innings in Game 2. The Devil Rays' 2007 second-round pick, Will Kline, didn't pitch in the opening series, but the right-hander pitched well at the end of the regular season, allowing just two earned runs over his last 14 innings. The Catfish staff gave up just three runs -- two earned -- for a 1.00 first-round ERA.

West Virginia:
OF Andrew Lefave won the SAL batting title with a .345 average and was in a virtual tie for the on-base percentage lead at .432. He hit 17 homers, drove in 79 runs and stole 12 bases. OF Stephen Chapman's 23 homers put him in a tie for fourth in the league. 3B Taylor Green hit .326, drove in a team-high 86 runs and finished seventh in the league with a .923 OPS. Brewers' 2007 first-rounder, Matt LaPorta, hit .318 and slugged .750 in 23 games with the Power at the end of the regular season, then proceeded to hit .500 with a homer and four RBIs in the first round of the playoffs. Chuck Caufield hit .462, Taylor Green hit .500 with six RBIs as the Power offense batted .381 in the first round.

OF Ryan Roster was third in the league with a .329 batting average while winning the home run title (30) and driving in 98 runs, second best in the league. 3B Cesar Suarez hit .306 with 11 homers, 87 RBIs and 31 steals. OF Desmond Jennings finished sixth in the league with a .315 average. He also stole 45 bags, good for fourth in the SAL. The Catfish hit .295 in their first-round sweep. OF Maiko Loyola went 6-for-10 in the series, while fellow outfielder Quinn Stewart was 4-for-8 with four RBIs.

West Virginia joined the league in 2005 and this is the first time the Power has made the playoffs. The history of Minor League ball in Charleston, however, dates back to 1910, and the Charleston Wheelers won the SAL title back in 1990. The Catfish came into existence in 2004 and spent their first three years as a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate before joining the Devil Rays organization this year. The club started out as the Wilmington Wave in 2001, spent one year in North Carolina before moving to Albany, Ga. for one season, then moved on to Columbus. This is the team's first playoff appearance, so either team would be a first-time champion.

Does pitching truly does win championships at this level? This is a classic offense vs. pitching matchup. The Power led the South Atlantic League in batting average, runs scored and OPS during the regular season and was firing on all cylinders in the first round, particularly with the addition of Matt LaPorta. Columbus was second in the league during the year in ERA, behind only Augusta, the team they dispatched in the opening round. Whoever wins this bat vs. arm battle will take the series.

With the time off from the first round, the Catfish should be able to line up their rotation the way they want it, and they've got Rollins ready to go in Game 1 and 5, if necessary, with Hellickson in Game 3. The West Virginia offense is indeed Power-ful, but that one-two (or one-two-three, in this case) pitching punch will prove to be too much. Columbus in 4.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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