Blue Rocks roll to first Mills Cup since '99
FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina -- Tad Ratliff would like to make this a habit.The right-handed Kansas City prospect was on the mound for the final pitch of the Carolina League season, completing another pitching masterpiece for the Class A Advanced Blue Rocks."It's just so cool to throw the last pitch of
FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina --
The right-handed Kansas City prospect was on the mound for the final pitch of the Carolina League season, completing another pitching masterpiece for the Class A Advanced Blue Rocks.
"It's just so cool to throw the last pitch of a season," said Ratliff, who did the same during Class A Lexington's 2018 title run. "To do it again, it's just awesome."
Wilmington shut down Fayetteville, 2-0, in the deciding game of the best-of-5 Mills Cup Finals on Saturday at Segra Stadium.
Blue Rocks pitchers didn't allow a run across the final 20 frames of the series.
Gameday box score
"We were used to tight ballgames," first-year Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said. "We didn't score a lot of runs this summer. We got enough hits and made all the plays we had to."
That was the case again in the winner-take-all matchup.
"Every game we go into, we know we just want to give our hitters a chance," reliever
The Blue Rocks claimed their first Carolina League championship in 20 years.
"Our pitching has been incredible all year. We knew what we were going to get from them," Thorman said. "We've had the flair for the big hit. … This series was what it should be, right to the wire. That's a good-hitting team over there."
In the finale,
Just like last year when Thorman directed the Legends to the South Atlantic League championship, Ratliff was tasked with the ninth.
The Woodpeckers had a leadoff batter on base for the first time when
"When it comes to crunch time, we try to throw quality pitches," said Ratliff, who earned his third save of the series. "I know Fayetteville is a hitters' park. I was not expecting a 2-0 game."
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Ninth-ranked Royals prospect MJ Melendez, who homered in Game 4 and was behind the plate for Wilmington's dominant pitchers, was named the Most Valuable Player of the postseason.
"It's a testament to our pitching," Melendez said. "Some of them were on short rest and they lock it in and still come with their best."
Thorman said Melendez's leadership was invaluable and his handling of the pitching staff spot-on.
"He really changes the game back there," he said.
That was the only run Houston's No. 29 prospect allowed as he gave up three hits and struck out 11 in 6 1/3 innings before departing to a huge ovation.
Wilmington nearly extended its lead with two outs in the eighth, when
But Wilmington added a run in the ninth, when Melendez drew a two-out walk and scored on a double by No. 10 Kansas City prospect
Wilmington won the series despite scoring a total of 11 runs across the five games.
Thorman and Ratliff are among the Blue Rocks heading to the Arizona Fall League, so they'll have a break of just a few days before the start of that action. Thorman plans to drive his truck home to Canada before heading to Arizona.
"It's worth it now," he said.
Wilmington won its fifth title overall, with the other four coming in a six-year span in the 1990s.
It marked the end of the first season in Fayetteville for the Astros affiliate. The franchise won the title last year when it played in nearby Buies Creek while its stadium was under construction.
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.