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Salem won 27 of its last 35 games to reach the Carolina League championship series.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Matt Price and the rest of the Salem bullpen were stingy in the Southern Division championship series.
Friday, September 6, 2013
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. —When Myrtle Beach put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, needing just one run to force a winner-take-all third game in the Southern Division Championship Series, the Salem Red Sox faced something they haven’t faced often lately: a hint of doubt.
“I was worried. I can’t lie,” Sox second baseman Mookie Betts said. “But you can’t do anything but believe, and that’s what I try to do.”
More and more, he has every reason to. Virginia Tech alum Matt Price escaped that jam with flair — striking out the last two batters with runners on second and third — and the Sox won 4-3 in the 10th to secure their 10th consecutive victory in one-run games.
Continued poise in the clutch would serve them well in the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship Series that opens at Potomac tonight. The Nationals have been plenty resourceful themselves lately, coming from behind twice to defeat Lynchburg in walk-off fashion in the Northern Division Championship Series.
But Salem — 27-8 in their past 35 games overall — seems to fear nobody right now. The Sox have grown accustomed to spending the late innings on the top step of the dugout, then celebrating when it’s over.
“Everyone understands what’s going on, so the focus of everyone from top to bottom, guys on the bench, has really been strong,” Salem manager Billy McMillon said. “I couldn’t say much more about our bullpen. They’ve really carried the load for us here lately.”
Relievers Madison Younginer, Robby Scott, Matty Ott and Price combined to allow just four hits over eight shutout innings in the two wins over Myrtle Beach. The Sox didn’t even have to use North Carolina alum Nate Striz, who posted a 1.32 ERA in his final 13 regular-season appearances.
All should be available tonight to back up starter Heri Quevedo, who went 5-2 with a 3.22 ERA after the all-star break. Team innings leader Mike Augliera (9-6, 4.23), who earned Carolina League pitcher of the week three times beginning in July, is slated to go in Sunday’s Game 2. All remaining games in the series will be played in the Roanoke Valley starting Tuesday night.
Offensively, Betts continues to be the engine. He was one of two Sox players to record multiple hits in Wednesday’s Game 1 victory, then started the winning rally in the 10th Thursday with a double in the gap.
Betts, who joined the team in July after a strong first half at Low-A Greenville, has now reached base in 32 straight games.
“He’s just been a big spark for us,” McMillon said. “He’s a ball of energy. He plays the game the right way. He shows up ready to play. He maybe even goes above and beyond at times. Gotta make sure he keeps that in check, but I think our team definitely shifted a little bit once he got here.”
And had a little more reason to believe.
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