Curve sweep, heading to finals
Next up: Game 1 ELCS: Tuesday, Altoona at Trenton, 7 p.m.
Division Series: Curve sweep Baysox, 3-0
By Matt Michelone
For the Mirror
Bowie may have had the best batting average, but it was the Curve pitching staff — which had the the Eastern League’s No. 3-ranked earned run average — that stole the show, again Saturday night.
Led by Austin Coley’s third straight seven-inning start, the Curve ran away with a 6-1 win over Bowie in Game 3 of the Eastern League’s Western Division series to earn a 3-0 sweep in the best-of-5 series before 3,156 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
This is the first time the Curve have advanced to the Eastern League Championship Series since 2010, and the first time they did it in a sweep since 2004.
Their reward will be Trenton, which the Curve defeated in 2010 for their lone title. The Thunder pounded Binghamton, 9-1, in Game 4 of the Eastern League Eastern Division Championship Series to end that series.
“He’s just a superior competitor,” Curve pitching coach Bryan Hickerson said of Coley. “He knows how to use his weapons against opponents, he uses them effectively, and he stays within himself out there. We know what we’re going to get when he goes out there.”
Coley gave up just one run, in the fourth, coming off a home run by D.J. Stewart, but that was as close as the Baysox got.
“We got three really good starts, and we were able to keep the lead,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “We played them really good all year. We played three perfect games.
“To keep them off the scoreboard like we did, because of our starting pitching, that’s the reason why we’re celebrating.”
Coley wasted no time making his presence felt retiring the first three Baysox batters on just seven pitches.
“It was a game just throughout that I tried to mix (pitches) and keep them honest,” Coley said. “But at the same time they hit some line drives, and my defense picked me up big time out there.”
The Curve bats didn’t waste anytime getting on the board in the bottom of the frame courtesy of two sacrifice flies by Kevin Kramer and Jin-De Jhang to put them up 2-0.
Not long after Bowie got on the board, Jhang went back to the plate and racked up a RBI-triple scoring Jerrick Suiter for a 3-1 lead after four.
Suiter’s defense also proved to be big for the Curve during the seventh as he racked up an unassisted double play, and later on recorded the final out on a ground ball to send the Curve to the league championship.
“It gave me confidence to throw it over the heart of the plate,” Coley said of the Curve defense “I knew that if they put in play, that the defense was going to have it. They’ve been that way all year long.”
Ryan felt that Coley’s performance was just part of the reason he wanted him to be on the mound for the elimination game.
“That’s the guy we wanted out there in a closeout situation,” he said. “The way he’s been consistent for us all year.
“Going into the series when we lined it up, I knew we had a chance.”
Coley believed making it to the championship series was made even sweeter against a team that had won 14 out of 19 regular season games.
“Especially to go into their place, and take two was huge. To be able to come back here, and finish it in front of the home crowd.”
This isn’t the first time that members of this Curve team have been in a championship situation.
Last season some members of this roster were a part of the Bradenton Marauders Florida State League Championship and the short season-A West Virginia Black Bears New York Penn League Title in 2015.
The final rotation for the Eastern League Championship Series has not been set, but Brandon Waddell is expect to go Game 1. He would have gone in Game 4 if the division series were extended.
Games 3 through 5 as needed will be in Altoona with first pitch times on Thursday and Friday at 6:00 pm, and 3:00 pm on Saturday. Games 1 and 2 will be in Trenton on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Key player: P Austin Coley went 7 innings giving up one run on six hits with 3 strikeouts and a walk.
Key play: 2B Mitchell Tollman and 1B Jerrick Suiter combined for the double play that ended the game.
Key stat: The Curve is headed to their 3rd Eastern League Championship Series, their first since 2010.