DANVILLE, Va. -- The decisive third game of the Appalachian League championship series mirrored the first as the Elizabethton Twins captured the title with a gritty 5-4 win over the Danville Braves on Friday night.
The Twins won the opener by the same score on Wednesday in Elizabethton before getting shelled on Thursday in Danville, 15-2. With Game 3 back at Dan Daniel Memorial Park, the Braves appeared to have the momentum.
But that's not the way the Twins saw it.
"We're a very loose bunch," said Elizabethton catcher Sean Richardson, who got his first start in the series and rewarded manager Ray Smith with the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth. "We got to the park today and joked around a little. Big losses like that just happen in baseball and I think we showed great class by coming in here and playing them tough."
Smith said he spoke to the team on the bus after Thursday night's loss, putting it in perspective with everything else going on in the country.
"Losing 15-2 is nothing compared to what people are going through down in New Orleans," Smith said. "I told them they shouldn't put pressure on themselves."
The key to the game for both sides was pitch selection. Both starters, Brian Duensing of the Twins and Asher Demme of the Braves, served a steady diet of breaking balls, and through three innings, neither club had a hit.
Despite the Braves' homefield advantage and Smith's advice to his club, both teams played tight early on. Duensing's throwing error on Elvis Andrus' bunt attempt in the third allowed the speedy shortstop to reach third. But Duensing retired the next three batters to strand Andrus.
The Twins scored twice in the fourth, thanks to a wild pitch and a hit batsman by Demme. In the bottom of the inning, the Braves unleashed an attack reminiscent of Game 2. Duensing gave up three straight hits before designated hitter Isaiah Ka'aihue cleared the bases with a three-run double.
Danville got another in the fifth. Second baseman Jose Santos hit a towering shot over the center fielder's head for a double and scored on Quentin Davis' sacrifice fly. The Braves led 4-2 and the modest crowd began to sense victory.
"When they came back on us in a hurry after we scored two, that was a big-time momentum changer," said Smith. "We could've lost it right there, but we got a good effort from (relief pitcher Oswaldo) Sosa, who's been our link to our closer all year."
With Sosa effectively shutting down the Braves' powerful lineup in the sixth and seventh innings, the Twins scored in the seventh on Mark Robinson's two-run single before Richardson plated the go-ahead run in the eighth.
"I was looking slider and got just enough of it to poke it into center field," Richardson said.
Twins closer Tim Lahey, who gave up two singles before saving Game 1, had no trouble in this one, inducing three easy groundouts. Thanks to all the offspeed and breaking pitches Elizabethton threw, the Braves totaled only six hits.
"Hitting is all about timing," Smith said. "For us to be successful in this series, we knew we'd have to throw a lot of offspeed pitches, breaking balls behind in the count and fastballs with good location. We were able to do that."
"I don't think our pitching gets enough credit," added Richardson. "We had the best pitching staff in the league this year, and we knew our pitching could beat their hitting any day."