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2021 Double-A playoffs coverage

Rangel steers M-Braves to Double-A South championship
The Mississippi Braves defeated the Montgomery Biscuits 2-1 in Game 5 to win the Double-A South title. (Tate Nations/
September 26, 2021

Sept. 26 The Double-A South belongs to the Mississippi Braves. After the M-Braves and Montgomery combined to score 36 runs in Games 3 and 4, the decisive Game 5 ended up being a pitchers’ duel. Led by Alan Rangel’s six one-run innings, the M-Braves clinched their first league title since

Sept. 26

The Double-A South belongs to the Mississippi Braves.

After the M-Braves and Montgomery combined to score 36 runs in Games 3 and 4, the decisive Game 5 ended up being a pitchers’ duel. Led by Alan Rangel’s six one-run innings, the M-Braves clinched their first league title since 2008 with a 2-1 victory over Montgomery at Trustmark Park.

Rangel was flat-out dominant. The righty hurler fanned eight batters and scattered three hits, one walk and one unearned run in his 10th outing this year of six or more innings. After he gave up a leadoff single in the third, he sent down the next 12 batters in order. The Biscuits would only tally one more hit for the entire game.

Both teams got on the board in the second inning. After Montgomery’s Jim Haley singled, a stolen base and a throwing error scored him from second to bring in the game’s first run. Second-ranked Braves prospect Shea Langeliers responded with a leadoff walk in the bottom of the frame and advanced to second on a wild pitch. C.J. Alexander doubled him in to even up the score.

After both teams came up empty in the third and fourth, Greyson Jenista stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fifth after Drew Lugbauer and Luke Waddell both struck out swinging. On the second pitch he saw, he launched a ball over the fence in right-center to give Mississippi a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish. All three hits that Jenista collected in the series were homers.

Brandon White and Jake Higginbotham each fanned two in one inning of work, and Nolan Kingham retired the first two batters in the ninth before a Ruben Cardenas single and a passed ball put the tying run in scoring position for Montgomery. But Kingham, who posted a 2.08 ERA in 65 Double-A innings this year, got Cal Stevenson to pop out in foul territory to earn his third save of the series and seal the Braves' victory. Full story

Sept. 25

Faced with a win-or-go home situation, Montgomery rose to the occasion with arguably its best performance of the year to coast to a 14-2 victory over Mississippi in Game 4 of the Double-A South Championship Series at Trustmark Park on Saturday.

The Biscuits complete effort was spearheaded by starter Miller Hogan. The right-hander twirled a gem, scattering four hits without issuing a walk and fanning seven over a season-long six scoreless frames. The 25-year-old retired 10 consecutive batters in a stretch from the first to the fourth inning and finished his outing by striking out second-ranked Braves prospect Shea Langeliers on a 3-2 fastball in the zone. Hogan exited the game after tossing 62 of his 81 pitches for strikes.

The 2018 sixth-round Draft pick spent the majority of the year pitching out of the bullpen for High-A Bowling Green. Hogan made just four starts for the Hot Rods over 24 appearances before being promoted to Montgomery on Aug. 24. In four regular-season starts for the Biscuits, the Saint Louis product posted a 3.18 ERA with 19 strikeouts and no walks over 17 frames.

Hogan’s performance was more than enough for the Biscuits offense that erupted for 14 runs on 13 hits. Every Montgomery starter reached base and all but one collected at least one hit. Tampa Bay’s 30th-ranked prospect Ford Proctor led the barrage with a double, a single, a pair of walks, four RBIs and three runs scored. Niko Hulsizer chipped in a pair of two-run doubles – the first opened the scoring for Montgomery in the fourth and the second capped a four-run frame in the sixth that put the Biscuits ahead, 10-0.

Third-ranked Rays prospect Xavier Edwards finished with a team-high three knocks, walked, drove in a run and scored three times from the top of the order. The 22-year-old has six hits and five RBIs over the club’s past two games. The Biscuits posted four-run innings in the fifth, sixth and ninth.

Atlanta’s 29th-ranked prospect Luke Waddell broke up the shutout with an RBI knock in the eighth. And with two outs in the ninth, Jefrey Ramos pinch-hit for Greyson Jenista and crushed a solo shot off left-hander Ivan Pelaez.

The decisive Game 5 will take place in Pearl, Mississippi at 6:05 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Sept. 24

Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Two outs. Game tied. The moment couldn’t have been any better scripted for Bo Naylor.

All Cleveland’s No. 6 prospect needed was a single to complete the storybook ending, and he did just that, lining a ball over the first baseman’s head to secure Akron’s sweep of Bowie in the Double-A Northeast Finals with a 6-5 win on Friday at Canal Park.

After taking the first two games of the Championship Series on the road, the RubberDucks returned home with the chance to clinch their first league title since 2016. It was a pitchers' duel for the first four innings until Bowie struck first, plating two runs in the top of the fifth on a fielding error. The Orioles affiliate would tack on three more for a 5-0 lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, Jose Fermin, one of the heroes for Akron in its clinching game over Somerset on Sept. 19, started the rally with an 11-pitch walk before No. 13 prospect Bryan Lavastida and No. 2 prospect George Valera both singled to put three RubberDucks on the pond with one out. Jonathan Engelmann chopped a ball to second, but a throwing error allowed Fermin and Lavadista to score. After Naylor struck out, No. 12 prospect Jose Tena poked a two-run single to right, and suddenly it was a 5-4 game heading into the ninth.

Reliever Manuel Alvarez worked around two walks to hold Bowie scoreless in the top of the frame before Will Brennan changed the game with a homer to lead off the bottom of the frame, his first long ball since Aug. 19. Full story

In other Double-A playoff action:

Northwest Arkansas 6, Wichita 2
Brewer Hicklen couldn’t have been happier to sleep on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment.

Hicklen, along with most of his Northwest Arkansas teammates, had packed his bags prior to Sunday’s regular-season finale in anticipation of the season being cut short. Some good fortune against mounted odds pushed the Naturals into the playoffs, which caused Hicklen to push his mattress back into a vacant unit.

On Friday, his grand slam helped power Northwest Arkansas to a 6-2 win, capping a three-game sweep of the Wichita Wind Surge to secure the Double-A Central Championship Series. That marked the Naturals’ second league title, the other having come in 2010.

But boy, they were a razor’s edge away from missing out on playoff action altogether.

On the final day of the regular season, the Naturals needed three things to happen in order to clinch a playoff spot: a win over Springfield, as well as losses for both Arkansas and Frisco. Full story

Mississippi 11, Montgomery 9
It was a tie game going into the bottom of the seventh until the M-Braves scored seven runs in two innings to take a 2-1 lead in the Double-A South Championship Series. All but one Mississippi starter drove in at least one run, and third baseman C.J. Alexander led the way with three RBIs. Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect Shea Langeliers broke the 4-4 tie with a double, while Alexander’s two-run homer capped a six-run eighth inning. The Braves would need all those runs, as Montgomery put up a five-spot in the top of the ninth. Third-ranked Rays prospect Xavier Edwards crushed a grand slam as part of the rallying effort before Nolan Kingham came in to get the final out with the go-ahead run at the plate. Gameday box score

Sept. 22

Mississippi was determined not to fall two games behind in the Double-A South Championship Series.

Clinging to a 6-5 lead in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday, the Braves’ affiliate had a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity following two walks and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Designated hitter Trey Harris stepped up to the plate and quickly capitalized on the situation.

With the infield in, the Braves’ No. 24 prospect reached for a 1-0 curveball and lined it off Jim Haley's glove. The ball skipped behind the shortstop, and two players scored to give Mississippi its final three-run lead in an 8-5 victory over the Biscuits in Game 2 at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium.

“Trey all year has just been really good at making contact,” M-Braves manager Dan Meyer said. “He got a pitch to hit, and he put a good swing on it and hit it hard. He was able to get it just by [Haley] at short off his glove, because he hit it hard, and that’s just what you do. Solid contact to try and drive them in.”

Harris finished the night 2-for-6 with three RBIs to help the Braves even up the Finals at one game apiece. His RBI double in the third kickstarted a five-run inning, with Wendell Rijo and Greyson Jenista adding home runs en route to an early 6-0 lead.

But Montgomery wouldn’t go down easily. The Rays affiliate scored the next five runs, one in the fourth and then four more in the next frame to close the gap. Braves No. 12 prospect Freddy Tarnok had fanned seven and held the Biscuits to just one run before being pulled after giving up a one-out single in the fifth. Reliever Troy Bacon then issued a walk, yielded an RBI double and found himself in a 3-0 hole to Ford Proctor.

The Rays' No. 30 prospect got the green light and crushed a fastball to right-center field, cutting Mississippi’s lead to one.

“The other team scores five like that, and all of a sudden it feels like, ‘Man, we’re losing.’ But when the team comes in the dugout, our coaching staff does a great job to say, ‘Hey, we’re still winning this ballgame,’” Meyer said. “The momentum was against us, but we’re still winning 6-5 here. ... We have to execute the next pitch, get the next out and I think our guys did a great job settling in. [Reliever Brandon White] did a great job getting that last out in the fifth for us."

In the top of the eighth, Drew Lugbauer took a base on balls, and the plan was to have Jacob Pearson bunt him over, but he ended up working a six-pitch walk. Meyer then asked Justin Dean, a player who doesn’t bunt a lot, if he felt comfortable laying down a sacrifice. His answer: “Absolutely.”

Dean poked the first pitch of the at-bat down the third-base line to Xavier Edwards, the third-ranked Rays prospect, and his throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. That loaded the bases with nobody out for Harris.

“It was a great bunt. Textbook,” Meyer said. “With his speed, it’s tough. Maybe he rushed Edwards a little, I don’t know. But it was great for us and got us rolling.”

Mississippi now heads back to Trustmark Park to host Game 3 on Friday. “Any time you’re playing best-of-5, especially against a good team like Montgomery, you have to split and get a win at their place,” Meyer said. “They got close, it was back-and-forth, but we were able to squeak that out. It's big now ... we gotta stay focused, gotta keep plugging. I’m confident these kids will, and hopefully, we come out on top.”

In other Double-A playoff action:

Akron 8, Bowie 5
The RubberDucks took a 2-0 series lead over Bowie in the Double-A Northeast Finals on the heels of Xzavion Curry’s five-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout performance. The only blemish on the outing for Cleveland's No. 30 prospect came in the second when Gunnar Henderson laced a solo shot for his first Double-A homer. But Akron had its own offensive display. The club's No. 2 prospect George Valera and seventh-ranked Brayan Rocchio drove in a run apiece in the opening frame off top Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez. Valera, No. 13 prospect Bryan Lavastida and Jose Fermin finished with two RBIs apiece. Gameday box score

Northwest Arkansas 5, Wichita 1
Three different players drove in runs in the Naturals' Game 2 victory en route to a 2-0 lead in the Double-A Central Championship Series. Vinnie Pasquantino broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with an RBI single and Freddy Fermin singled in two more that frame. Meibrys Viloria then laced a two-run single in the fifth. Despite allowing seven hits, starter Yefri Del Rosario yielded just one run in four innings, while Garrett Davila, Andres Sotillet and Jose Cuas combined for five hitless innings to close out the game. Wichita’s lone run came off the bat of D.J. Burt, who drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Gameday box score

Sept. 21

Peyton Battenfield really rose to the occasion as Akron's starter in the Double-A Northeast Championship Series opener.

Cleveland's 17th-ranked prospect twirled his best outing of the season -- allowing a run on one hit while matching a career-high 10 strikeouts over a season-long seven frames -- to pace the Akron to a 5-1 victory over Bowie in Game 1 at Prince George's Stadium on Tuesday.

The lone blemish of the evening for the 24-year-old was a solo blast by Jordan Westburg to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Battenfield faced one above the minimum the rest of the way -- working around a throwing error by third baseman Jose Fermin with two outs in the third. The 6-foot-4, 224-pounder whiffed the side in the second and fourth.

Battenfield retired the final 13 batters he faced -- recording his 10th punchout on a 1-2 pitch that froze Westburg in the sixth -- and was taken out after tossing 61 of his 90 pitches for strikes.

The 2019 ninth-round Draft selection posted a 3.28 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP across seven starts with Akron this season. Battenfield finished with a 2-1 mark and fanned 36 over 35 2/3 innings.

Right-hander Nick Mikolajchak took the ball in the eighth and completed the one-hitter. The 23-year-old worked around a walk and struck out one over the final two frames.

A two-run dinger by Cleveland's No. 13 prospect Bryan Lavastida in the fourth provided the difference for Akron, but the RubberDucks offense tacked on a three-run frame in the seventh. Jonathan Engelmann got it started with a solo shot to left, and second-ranked George Valera drove in a pair with a two-out base hit to right.

Akron won a League Championship Series game for the first time since the title-clinching Game 3 of the 2016 Eastern League Championship Series in Trenton.

In other Double-A playoff action:

Montgomery 7, Mississippi 1
Adrian De Horta saved his best of the season for Game 1 of the Double-A South Finals. The right-handed Rays prospect whiffed seven while yielding just a hit and a walk across five scoreless frames the Biscuits. Third-ranked Xavier Edwards was a sparkplug at the top of Montgomery's lineup with a pair of hits, a walk and two runs scored, and outfielder Jim Haley provided some pop at the bottom of the lineup with a homer, a double and three RBIs. Atlanta's 24th-ranked prospect Trey Harris drove in the M-Braves' lone run with an RBI knock to center in the seventh. Gameday box score

Northwest Arkansas 7, Wichita 5
In a game that featured five lead changes, a seventh-inning long ball by Brewer Hicklen put the Naturals ahead for good in Game 1 of the Double-A Central Championship Series. The 25-year-old finished with a pair of knocks and a walk. Catcher Meibrys Viloria reached base five times – collecting two hits and walking three times while scoring twice and driving in a run – and Freddy Fermin drove in a team-high three runs with a double and a single. Minnesota outfield prospect Leobaldo Cabrera collected a pair of RBIs by homering in the second and doubling in the fourth. Gameday box score