AUGUSTA 3, COLUMBIA 2
It took until the 137th game of the season, but the best team in the South Atlantic League's Southern Division has punched its ticket to the postseason.
Better late than never for the Augusta GreenJackets, who plated a tie-breaking run in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday to beat the Columbia Fireflies and lock up the division's second-half championship.
The GreenJackets will host the first-half champ Lexington Legends at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in the first game of a best-of-three division championship series. Game two is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Friday and an if-necessary third game would be played at 1:05 p.m. Saturday, both at Lexington.
It's the GreenJackets' first postseason appearance since 2013.
Augusta, which finished the regular season 77-61 following Monday's 6-5 win over Columbia, moved to 40-29 in the second half and slammed the door on the Asheville Tourists, who still had some hope at forcing a one-game playoff for the second-half title following their win earlier Sunday.
That hope didn't last long.
Andres Angulo, eighth in the batting order, tripled off the wall in right-center field to lead off the bottom of the eighth, then scored on a Mikey Edie single for a 3-2 lead. It was Angulo's only hit of the game and was one of only four for the GreenJackets – and it was their first since the first inning.
The GreenJackets squandered an opportunity at some insurance runs with a bases-loaded double play to end the inning, but Bryce Tucker made sure that didn't matter. He took the mound for the top of the ninth and struck out the first two batters before getting Gerson Molina to fly out to shallow right field, then was mobbed by his teammates as they celebrated their playoff berth.
Preston White got the start on the mound and pitched two scoreless innings before Seth Corry, the game's scheduled starter and the league's pitcher of the year, came in from the bullpen.
Corry came into the game with a 2-0 lead after Frankie Tostado smoked a two-run homer to deep right-center through the wind in the bottom of the first.
That was the last hit the GreenJackets would get until Angulo's triple, and the Fireflies caught up to them.
Corry gave up two runs in 3⅔ innings, the first a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Phil Capra in the top of the fourth and then a Nick Conti bomb toward the scoreboard in left-center in the top of the fifth.
Later in the inning, Corry struck out Mark Vientos to become the GreenJackets' all-time strikeout leader, passing Elvin Hernandez.
Corry exited the game in the top of the sixth with the Fireflies threatening, but Matt Seelinger struck out Molina with runners on second and third to end the inning.
Seelinger (1-4, 4.97 ERA) worked quickly, tossing 2⅓ perfect innings with four strikeouts. He was credited with the win. Seelinger, Corry and Tucker combined to retire the final 12 batters in order.
The GreenJackets went 36-32 in the first half but lost two of their final four games – after sweeping the Legends in Lexington – while the Legends won their last four to win the first-half title by half a game over the GreenJackets and Charleston RiverDogs.
There was no chasing down Augusta on the season's final weekend, however. The GreenJackets, winners of nine of their last 11 and the hottest team in the SAL, are now on a six-game winning streak entering the postseason.
Tickets for the first postseason game to be played at SRP Park can be purchased at https://bit.ly/2llpj3L.