Drew VerHagen made only six starts for Lakeland this season, but the rookie out of Vanderbilt looked like a veteran on Wednesday night.
VerHagen allowed three hits over six innings, Wade Gaynor homered early and Tyler Collins went deep for the second straight game as Lakeland blanked Dunedin, 3-0, to sweep its best-of-3 Florida State League semifinal series.
Selected in the fourth round of this year's Draft, VerHagen (1-0) struck out two and walked a pair in the Flying Tigers' second straight shutout. They will play Jupiter or St. Lucie in the best-of-5 Championship Series.
"I was just trying to keep my two-seamer down in the zone and get those ground-ball outs," VerHagen told The (Lakeland) Ledger. "I let my defense do the work and they were great all night."
Gaynor homered leading off the second inning against Dunedin starter Sean Nolin and Collins greeted reliever Frank Gailey with his second homer in as many days to start the ninth for a 3-0 edge.
"It was nice to get an early lead," Gaynor told the newspaper. "Our staff the past few games has been the reason we've won. Back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs is almost unheard of. They've been lights out. If we can score one or three runs with them pitching like that, we have a great chance to win."
James Robbins drove in Lakeland's other run with a single in the seventh.
Dan Bennett struck out five and yielded one hit over two dominant innings before Melvin Mercedes fanned two in the ninth for his first postseason save. The bullpen effort came a night after Matt Crouse recorded the final six outs in the series opener.
VerHagen isn't new to postseason situations. Before transferring to Oklahoma and, eventually, Vanderbilt, the 21-year-old right-hander won the 2011 Junior College World Series with Navarro (Texas) College.
The Flying Tigers' trio did well in shutting down a pair of rehabbing Major Leaguers in J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie, who combined to go 1-for-7 with a walk.
Arencibia, sidelined with a fractured right hand, is due to return to Toronto by the end of the week, while there is no timetable on Lawrie, out since Aug. 3 with an oblique injury.
In other FSL playoff action:
St. Lucie 2, Jupiter 1
Alonzo Harris singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning as the Mets tied the best-of-3 series.
Jupiter's Terrence Dayleg briefly knotted the game with an RBI double in the top of the seventh after St. Lucie took a 1-0 lead in the first on Richard Lucas' two-out run-scoring double.
Starter Jacob DeGrom struck out five over five scoreless innings for St. Lucie, but John Church got the win after recording the final out in the seventh. Adam Kolarek earned the save, pitching around two hits and a walk over the final two innings.
Hammerheads starter Adam Conley, the Marlins' No. 2 left-handed prospect, was charged with one run on two hits and a pair of walks over four innings. The teams will meet again Thursday in St. Lucie, with the winner advancing to face Lakeland in the Finals. Box score