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Nats crush Pelicans for first Mills Cup

Arnesen shuts down Myrtle Beach to claim championship
September 12, 2008
It took only four years -- and four innings on Friday -- for the Potomac Nationals to claim their first Carolina League title.

Erik Arnesen hurled 6 2/3 strong innings and the Nationals won their first Mills Cup with an 8-2 victory over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at Pfitzner Stadium.

"It's absolutely incredible," Arnesen said. "It hasn't fully sunk in yet. It's just absolutely incredible."

Arnesen (1-0), in only his 10th appearance for Potomac, struck out four and allowed two runs on six hits and a pair of walks to pick up the series-clinching Game 4 win.

"I don't know if I was nervous, just excited, especially after last night's win. Everyone was excited," he said. "I felt real good. We scored early and they gave me a chance to be effective."

Jack Spradlin recorded the final out in the seventh before Kyle Gunderson worked a scoreless eighth and Josh Wilkie sealed the championship with a perfect ninth.

Wilkie struck out Travis Jones and Brandon Hicks before inducing a series-ending grounder to first base from Concepcion Rodriguez, sending the Nationals into a much-anticipated celebration.

"It was awesome, just incredible," Arnesen said. "Everyone was going nuts having a great time."

Arnesen induced a dozen grounders and four fly balls in the win. The 24-year-old was brilliant in his previous start against Myrtle Beach on Aug. 17 when he tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings and combined on a seven-hit shutout.

Potomac scored in each of the first four innings to take a commanding 7-1 lead. The Nationals totaled 35 runs in the series, including 31 runs in their three wins.

"I was going to throw the best I could, but it just makes you feel real good," Arnesen said of the early run support. "I knew my pitch count wasn't real huge, but it worked out."

Dee Brown gave the Nationals the edge in the first with a two-run homer, his first of the postseason. Boomer Whiting slugged a two-run shot in the second and Stephen King scored on a groundout in the third.

Andrew Lefave and King added RBIs in the fourth before Brown singled home Dan Lyons with Potomac's final run in the sixth.

Ernesto Mejia went 3-for-3 and hit solo homers in the second and seventh for Myrtle Beach.

Potomac won Game 3 in dramatic fashion Thursday when Jhonatan Solano hit a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth and Michael Burgess drew a bases-loaded walk in the 10th.

"It was huge," said Nationals manager Randy Knorr. "After the huge win last night, I think the momentum carries over. We got washed out of [batting practice], but these guys were ready to go. It was pretty impressive." It's the first championship as a manager for Knorr, who won consecutive World Series with Toronto in 1992-93. Ironically, Knorr played for Myrtle Beach manager Rocket Wheeler when he was in the Blue Jays' system.

"Rocky's a great guy," Knorr said. "Every day we played this season, we went out for lunch together. We went out to lunch today. He's great, he's a big reason I got to the big leagues. He'd always grab me for extra work. He's a guy that, as a manager, if I have a question, I'll call him. He's been great. "We talked about the game, about last night's game, how we came back. It's just what we do, we psych each other out a little, too, so it's been fun. We said no matter what happens, we knew it'd be a great series. If they won, I would have been happy for him, and he was happy for us."

Potomac won the first-half Northern Division title and claimed the second-half crown with a 37-33 record.

"We just kept on winning," said Arnesen. "It's awesome."

Pelicans starter Cole Rohrbough (1-1) was charged with five runs -- four earned -- on six hits and two walks over 2 2/3 innings.

Danny Wild is a contributor to