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Tides nab Triple-A National Championship crown

No. 2 Orioles prospect Cowser slugs decisive slam, wins MVP
October 1, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- Colton Cowser stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and his team down by a run in the top of the seventh. This scenario was nothing new for MLB’s No. 14 overall prospect, who has been optioned from the Majors twice in the past two months,

LAS VEGAS -- Colton Cowser stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and his team down by a run in the top of the seventh.

This scenario was nothing new for MLB’s No. 14 overall prospect, who has been optioned from the Majors twice in the past two months, and the Norfolk Tides, who were a loss away from elimination in the International League Finals earlier in the week.

And the result was just as familiar.

Cowser drilled a 455-foot grand slam to give the Orioles’ affiliate the lead for good, securing himself MVP honors as Norfolk edged Oklahoma City, 7-6, in the Triple-A National Championship on Saturday at Las Vegas Ballpark.

“It's something we've worked for the whole year,” Cowser said. “Of course it ended up being close, but hey, that's how we've been playing it all year. So proud of our guys, proud of our staff, proud of organization. It's a really, really great feat that we just accomplished.”

The Orioles’ No. 2 prospect got the Tides’ first hit of the night with a single in the first, quickly followed by a stolen base. Cowser entered the game 1-for-13 in the postseason, but that sole knock was a double in the IL Finals clincher against Durham.

“For a guy that's been struggling for a little bit to get down 0-2 against the lefty -- a tough lefty [Alec Gamboa] -- and to come through, I'm so happy for him,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton said of Cowser. “So proud of him. He just continues to grind, and he deserved a moment like that. “

Cowser provided solid protection behind Connor Norby in the Tides’ lineup. The Orioles’ No. 7 prospect capped a three-hit night with what proved to be a vital two-run homer in the ninth with the Dodgers mounting a four-run final frame.

“Norby's been a dog all year for us,” Britton said. “The year that he's had has been unbelievable. [He] sometimes flies under the radar a little bit with all the prospects we have here, but [his homer] ended up being the game-winner. We needed seven, and Norby seems to always be the right man in that spot to deliver for us, and it's incredible.”

Norfolk, which boasted four of MLB’s Top 50 overall prospects in its starting lineup Saturday -- including No. 1 overall Jackson Holliday -- claimed International League championship honors for the first time in 38 years on Thursday. The club won a franchise-record 90 games during the regular season and featured many key contributors to Baltimore’s 2023 AL East division-winning squad.

“I knew going in we were gonna have a lot of talent, but there was a lot of pressure to make sure that we got these guys to perform at a high level,” Britton said. “They bought in, they made it easy for me. I love these guys.

“It's a real special feeling to be a part of their journey on the way up, and I can't wait to see what these guys do in the future.”

From left to right: Connor Norby, Kyle Stowers, Colton Cowser, Coby Mayo, Jackson Holliday and Joey OrtizShayna Goldberg

Reliever T.J. McFarland, whom the Orioles signed on July 22, got the win after working around a hit and a walk with two strikeouts in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

The Dodgers got pitching help from rehabbing Los Angeles hurlers Yency Almonte and Ken Giles. Offensively, they were led by MLB’s No. 44 overall prospect Michael Busch, who homered and doubled. Following Busch’s ninth-inning blast, third baseman Miguel Vargas crushed a solo shot to make it a one-run game before Joey Krehbiel secured the final out for the Tides.

"Resiliency. And that's what we did,” Norby said. “We've done it all year. We've had our ups and we've had our downs. We didn't make it easy on ourselves against Durham. And we didn't make it easy on ourselves tonight, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

“The way we handled ourselves all year and the way we battled through adversity all year and this team is just unreal. Unbelievable."

The latest ring marks the first Triple-A title for the franchise since the Tidewater Tides won the Triple-A World Series in 1983 as a Mets affiliate. The last Orioles Triple-A club to win the final Minor League title of the year was the Rochester Red Wings, who snagged the Junior World Series in 1971.

This championship is the latest accolade for an Orioles farm system that has been ranked No. 1 since the 2021 midseason rank. Gunnar Henderson is a strong candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, while Baltimore has its own exciting pennant chase.

“They draft a great group of guys and guys that come to work and want to work and just generally good guys that want to be around each other all the time,” Norby said. “We do more things off the field [together] than we do on the field. It's such a close, close group all the way down to the bottom. That's who this org is and that's what they try to develop a lot off the field.”

Kelsie Heneghan is a writer for Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.