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The Champions! Blue Wahoos Roll To First Southern League Outright Title In 10th Anniversary Season 

Blue Wahoos manager Kevin Randel (10) holds up championship trophy amid a sea of beverage spray inside the visitors lockerroom, following the Blue Wahoos win against the Tennessee Smokies in the deciding game of the Southern League Championship Series. (Daniel Venn)
September 28, 2022

The Blue Wahoos applied a shining, championship bow Wednesday night on their special 10th anniversary season. Exhibiting the resiliency that carried them to this point, the Blue Wahoos got a fifth inning, go-ahead grand slam, from infielder Cobie Fletcher-Vance to turn the game, then rode the strength of their pitching

The Blue Wahoos applied a shining, championship bow Wednesday night on their special 10th anniversary season.

Exhibiting the resiliency that carried them to this point, the Blue Wahoos got a fifth inning, go-ahead grand slam, from infielder Cobie Fletcher-Vance to turn the game, then rode the strength of their pitching to cruise into an 11-4 win against the Tennessee Smokies in the deciding game of the Southern League championship series at Smokies Park.

"Man, it's crazy, because it's the first time I have ever been on a championship team... pro ball, college, high school, so this is super exciting," said Fletcher-Vance, who also had a run-scoring single to finish a 5 RBI night. "We won the championship! We did it!"

After losing Sunday’s first game 4-1 to the Smokies at Blue Wahoos Stadium, the Blue Wahoos won twice on the road at Smokies Stadium in Kodak, Tennessee – located east of Knoxville -- to claim the first outright Southern League title in franchise history. They were co-champions in 2017 when weather concerns wiped out the championship series.

In their second year as the Miami Marlins' Double-A affiliate, the Blue Wahoos delivered the first championship by a Marlins minor league team since 2014 when Jacksonville won the Southern League. The Marlins had their three top minor league executives, led by director Geoff DeGroot, attending the game. Pensacola was the only affiliate to reach the postseason.

"To win the last game of the season is always a great thing to accomplish," said manager Kevin Randel, who has now won a championship in the Marlins organization as a player, assistant coach and manager. "These guys never gave in. You preach to these guys 27 outs, play every single out. We had some great at-bats throughout. It was a memorable series."

.The Smokies, the Chicago Cubs’ long-time Double-A affiliate, who knocked off the Rocket City Trash Pandas – the league’s best record team to win the North Division title -- were seeking their first Southern League title since 1978.

Trailing 3-2 in the fifth, the Blue Wahoos loaded the bases on two walks and an error. Fletcher-Vance then blasted the first pitch he saw from reliever Blake Whitney over the left field wall, just inside the foul pole and above the fence line.

"That kinda sealed the deal for where the game was at," Randel said. "Everybody was going crazy, that's for sure. He had a first pitch breaking ball and he was on it. He had a big hit (Tuesday) with a two RBI single on a breaking ball. He was looking for it, got it and put a good swing on it."

They expanded a 6-3 lead with a four-run seventh inning. The first five batters reached on hits, including Fletcher-Vance who drove in his fifth run in the game with a bases-loaded single. Pinch-hitter J.D. Osborne followed with a two-run double. The fourth run scored when reliever Riley Martin failed to catch a throw from his catcher Harrison Wenson after a pitch.

From that point, the bullpen finished it off. Sean Reynolds, the reliever star of back-to-back wins against the Montgomery Biscuits in the South Division series, recorded the final five outs to celebrate again with teammates.

The game began with an incredible start from Blue Wahoos 19-year-old star prospect Eury Perez. The 19-year-old Perez tied a Minor League Baseball record by striking out the first eight batters he faced.

But he ran into trouble with two outs in the third as the Smokies took a 3-2 lead, causing Perez to throw 40 pitches in that inning and requiring the bullpen to be summoned earlier than hoped.

"Eury was cruising," Randel said. "Everything lined up pretty good, then he had a little hiccup and we had to piece the game together. But the offense came through."

The Blue Wahoos regained an emotional edge two innings later.

Nasim Nunez led off by hitting a grounder that Tennessee first baseman Nelson Maldanado mishandled for an error. Will Banfield followed with a walk. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With one out, Griffin Conine checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch and the umpires agreed to load bases.

That moment became pivotal.

The Blue Wahoos celebrate their Southern League championship Wednesday night inside the visitors clubhouse at Smokies Stadium following an 11-4 win in the deciding game of the championship series against Tennessee Smokies. Daniel Venn

On the next pitch, Fletcher-Vance clubbed a sinker out of the ballpark and the Blue Wahoos never trailed again.

The Blue Wahoos were Southern League co-champions in 2017 with the Chattanooga Lookouts, after the league opted to cancel the title series due to concern with a hurricane approaching from the Gulf of Mexico.

This time, the Blue Wahoos twice won best-of-three series after dropping the first game. They forced a deciding game against the Montgomery Biscuits in the South Division series, after trailing 5-0 at one point. They won the deciding game 1-0 on a sensational game-saving catch from centerfielder Thomas Jones at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The Blue Wahoos won this championship after qualifying as first-half division winners. They then had more than 70 roster moves in the second half, including adding many players from the High-A affiliate Beloit Sky Carp.

It all led into a championship.

BLUE WAHOOS IN POST-SEASON

2015 Lost South Division Series 0-3 vs. Biloxi Shuckers

2016 Lost South Division Series 1-3 vs. Mississippi Braves

2017 Won Southern League Co-Championship 3-0 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

2018 Lost South Division Series 1-3 vs. Biloxi Shuckers

2019 Lost South Division Series 2-3 vs. Biloxi Shuckers

2021 Won South Division Series 2-1 vs. Montgomery Biscuits, Won Southern League Championship Series 2-1 vs. Tennessee Smokies.

WHAT’S NEXT?

MOVE AHEAD: 2023 Season Opener

WHO: Blue Wahoos vs. Montgomery Biscuits

WHEN: April 7, 2023

WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium

TICKETS: Season Tickets For 2023 Season: www.bluewahoos.com/tickets.

SCHEDULE: The 2023 schedule will closely resemble this season with Blue Wahoos playing 69 home games with Mondays as the off-day each week.