This was more like what was expected.
In the Southern Division series, the Columbus Catfish swept the Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) in two games, wreaking havoc on what was considered the best pitching staff in the league.
And, though it took three games, the West Virginia Power (Brewers) took the Northern Division series from Hickory Crawdads (Pirates) in a series where the closest game was a 5-run difference.
With all the great pitchers in the league, in five games, no one picked up a save.
That changed tonight. Neal Frontz picked up the first save of the South Atlantic League post-season, as the Catfish edged West Virginia, 5-2, to take a 1-0 lead in the best of five series for the league title.
Down 1-0 after 1 inning, the Catfish took the lead in the 3rd. Matt Fields and Quinn Stewart led off with singles. With 1 out, Maiko Loyola moved them over on a ground out to first. John Matulia doubled to right, putting the Catfish up 2-1.
In the 4th, Fields hit a 2-out double that he tried to extend to a triple, but was thrown out at the bag. But Nevin Ashley, who had walked, scored ahead of the out, giving the Catfish a 3-1 lead.
Another run in the 5th inning extended the lead. Stewart tripled to start things. He came home on a 1-out sacrifice fly by Loyola.
Catfish starter Heath Rollins got into a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 5th, but 2 ground balls kept West Virginia from making a big inning, and only one run was scored, and the Catfish lead was cut to 4-2.
Cesar Suarez closed the scoring in the top of the 6th, with a lead-off homer to left field.
Up 5-2, Catfish reliever and Columbus native Brian Baker came in to pitch the 7th and 8th innings, allowing a single to start the 7th, but nothing further that inning. A 2-out walk in the 8th was the last base runner West Virginia would get.
Neal Frontz pitched a perfect 9th, striking out the side, earning a save, and securing the win for Rollins and the Catfish.
Rollins allowed the 2 runs on 6 hits in 6 innings work. He walked 2 and struck out 4, and picked up his 2nd post-season win. Baker allowed just the 1 hit and 1 walk in 2 innings work, striking 1 out.
Stewart led Catfish batters, going 3-for-4 with a triple. The only at-bat that didn't register a hit was a 9th inning fly to right that West Virginia's Chuck Caufield robbed of a homer with a leaping catch over the wall. Fields had 2 hits, including his RBI-double, to help pace the Catfish. Matulia had 2 RBIs on a double.
The story again was the completeness of the Catfish performance. Stellar pitching, combined with timely hitting made the victory. West Virginia accomplished what Augusta did: keeping Ryan Royster, the top slugger in the league and the batter with the highest average on the Catfish this season, from getting a hit. But the Catfish showed they are a complete team. Six of the Catfish' 9 hits came from the bottom three of the batting order.
Game two of the series will be tomorrow night in Charleston, West Virginia, with the home team hoping to salvage a split, and the Catfish looking to go up 2-0 before returning to Columbus to finish the series.
Will Kline is scheduled to take the mound for the Catfish tomorrow. He was 0-4 with a 4.97 ERA in 9 appearances this season, after signing with Tampa Bay in June. But what most forget is that other than one really bad outing, Kline's ERA is an impressive 1.67 in the other 8 appearances. Three of his losses came from lack of run support. In those 4 losses, the Catfish scored a total of 5 runs.
I'm looking forward to another great contest tomorrow night. Charleston's too far to travel ... during a work week ... so I'll be following the game online. MiLB.com carries the broadcast from the radio station in Charleston.