It was a tale of two halves in game three of the Carolina League Southern Division Championship Series between the Buies Creek Astros and the Winston-Salem Dash.
It only took one hour to get through the first five frames, which featured a scoreless pitcher’s duel.
The last four innings were a two-hour slug fest, in which the Astros slugged four home runs and held on to win 6-5 and sweep the Dash in the best-of-five series.
“I’m just very proud of the players,” Astro’s manager Morgan Ensberg said of his team. “To see where they were in the beginning and to see where they are now, these guys have really made improvements and these are guys that are eventually going to have Major League value, and I just could not be happier for them.”
Tyler Ivey was dominant on the mound right from the beginning, striking out the leadoff batter on three pitches. Ivey tossed 5 2/3 perfect innings before giving up a walk and a double. He worked out of the jam with a timely strikeout. He tossed another scoreless frame and worked into the eighth before he was chased by a two-run home run. Ivey finished with a line of 7 1/3 IP, 2 earned runs and 6 strikeouts.
“He had a great plan of attack,” Ensberg said of Ivey. “He really watched the game (Thursday) and when we were doing the pitcher-catcher meeting before the game he had a very good idea of what the opposing hitters were doing.”
The Astros struck first in the top of the sixth. Corey Julks drew a two-out walk and Bryan De La Cruz drove a single up the middle to put a pair of runners on for Seth Beer. The left-handed slugger slapped his 13th homer of the season over the left field wall to put Buies Creek up 3-0.
They kept that momentum rolling into the seventh with back-to-back home runs from Jake Adams and Cody Bohanek to lead off the inning. Then Osvaldo Duarte crushed another one to give the Astros a 6-0 lead.
“We were hitting the ball hard early on, it just wasn’t happening yet,” Ensberg said. “Finally we broke out in those back-to-back innings. It was really a function of waiting for the opposition to make a mistake, and when they did we were able to capitalize on it and we did that by hitting homers, getting that ball elevated and making it so they can’t defend it.”
The Dash didn’t go out quietly. After Laz Rivera hit the two-run homer to chase Ivey, Winston-Salem put up two more runs against the Astros bullpen to make it 6-4 heading into the ninth. Then, Gavin Sheets hit the sixth home run of the game to make it 6-5 and bring the tying run to the plate with one out.
Luckily for Buies Creek, Collin McKee kept his composure after giving up the home run and struck out the final two batters to end the game and record his second save of the series.
The Astros await the winner of the Northern Division Championship Series between the Potomac Nationals and the Lynchburg Hillcats. Ensberg said he has no idea about the Astros’ chance going forward, but he likes the way his team looks.
“Our job is to prepare these players to have Major League tools,” Ensberg said. “The byproduct of really focusing on that a lot of times is winning.”