Appel leads Grizzlies to first PCL title

Astros prospect ties career high with 10 strikeouts in Game 5 victory

(Kiel Maddox/Fresno Grizzlies)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | September 20, 2015 9:27 PM

The scene in the Fresno locker room late Sunday afternoon was one of elation. Players jumped around, spraying each other with Champagne, after producing the franchise's first Pacific Coast League championship.

"What a great feeling," Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "The fans supported us every playoff game. It was a huge crowd out there tonight.

"We're excited for the front office and the city of Fresno, but I can't say enough about the players. Twenty-five guys on this roster playing hard all the way through, and now we've got a chance to go win the [Triple-A] National Championship."

Behind a solid start by Astros No. 2 prospect Mark Appel and a 3-for-4 performance from 11th-ranked Tony Kemp, the Grizzlies defeated Round Rock, 7-3, in the decisive fifth game of the Finals to win the first PCL title in franchise history.

The championship came one day after Fresno stayed alive with a 2-1 triumph over the Express at Chukchansi Park.

Sunday's start went to Appel (1-0), the first overall pick in the 2013 Draft, and he responded with one of his strongest outings of the season. After surrendering an RBI single to Ed Lucas in the top of the first, he didn't allow another runner past second base until the sixth.

"Total domination," DeFrancesco said. "This guy struck out 10 guys and had total control. He made one mistake there in the sixth inning. Other than that, this is the Mark Appel that the Astros are expecting and hope that he gets the job done."

Drew Robinson hit a two-run homer on Appel's 106th and final pitch dampened an otherwise strong 5 2/3-inning stint that included career high-tying 10 strikeouts.

"Talking to him, he threw a changeup on an 0-2 pitch, his third-best pitch, when he was up over 100 pitches," DeFrancesco said. "It was a learning experience for him."

Kemp led the offensive charge. The 23-year-old second baseman led off the bottom of the first with a double off Anthony Ranaudo (1-1) and scored one batter later when Tyler White drilled a two-run homer. Kemp also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the second and helped the Grizzlies add a key insurance run with an RBI single through the right side in the fourth.

The 2013 fifth-round pick batted .405 in the playoffs and .450 (9-for-20) against Round Rock en route to winning Finals MVP honors.

"The kid's a catalyst," DeFrancesco said. "Hitting [for average], scoring runs, stealing bases. He's a true competitor with the game on the line and he got some big hits for us. We're real happy for Tony."

Down to their final three outs, the Express got a one-out double in the ninth from Rangers No. 4 prospect Lewis Brinson. But James Hoyt struck out Thomas Field on three pitches, then fanned No. 2 prospect Nomar Mazara to set off the celebration.

"The last time I was in the championship [managing Sacramento], we won it in '07," DeFrancesco said of his thoughts before the final out. "Now it's eight years later, you're starting to think about if you're ever going to get back and then all the emotions of the hard work this team put in, the coaching staff, the front office giving us all the information and trying to do the best we can. … I can't say enough."

Ranaudo gave up four runs -- three earned -- on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts over five innings.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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