Starling, Royals win Appy Finals opener

Top prospect defeats E-Twins with sacrifice fly in 12th inning

By Zack Cox / Special to | September 1, 2012 10:11 PM ET

Burlington has gone nearly 20 years without an Appalachian League championship. The Royals are just one win away from that elusive title, thanks to Bubba Starling.

The Royals' top prospect lifted a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 12th inning Saturday night to give Burlington a 3-2 win over Elizabethton in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Appy League Finals.

The Royals can clinch their first championship since 1993 -- when the team was an Indians affiliate -- with a win on Sunday in Elizabethton.

"It was a real grind," said Starling,'s No. 12 overall propect. "There was great pitching from both teams; it seemed like both sides were just battling and battling even before we got into extras."

Back-to-back solo homers by Adam Walker and D.J. Hicks gave the Twins a 2-1 advantage in the sixth before Burlington's Mark Threlkeld tied it two innings later with his second postseason blast.

The score remained knotted until the 12th when Terrance Gore led off with a single and dashed all the way to third on a sacrifice by Humberto Arteaga. Starling followed with a fly ball to deep center field, with Gore scoring easily.

"In the eighth inning, we had a key hit by one of our guys, Mark Threlkeld," Starling said. "He hit a home run that got us tied up and sent it into extra innings. ... When it came down to the end there, a couple of guys on [base], we bunted them over, then the sac fly got them in."

The fifth overall pick in the 2011 Draft said the Royals already are looking toward closing out the series Sunday.

"It's real exciting," Starling added. "Of course to have the game-winning hit, it's what you dream for, especially in a championship series.

"We just want to feed off the positive energy from tonight and bring it into tomorrow. It's going to be a tough game. They've got some great pitching over there, some great hitting, too. It's going to be tough one, so we just need to battle."

Both starting pitchers were sharp in the series opener. Elizabethton's Angel Mata allowed a run on six hits over five innings, while Royals counterpart Patrick Conroy yielded two hits over four scoreless frames.

Neither team had trouble getting on base; bringing those runners home posed a challenge, however. Burlington and Elizabethton stranded 10 and 14, respectively, combining to go 1-for-22 with men in scoring position.

Freddy Rodriguez (1-0) worked a perfect 12th to pick up the win, while Twins reliever Joshua Burris (0-1) was charged with a run on two hits over 1 2/3 innings.

Zack Cox is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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