Curve hold on to clinch division title

From Mirror reports

BOWIE, Md. — The Curve won a regular-season division title for the second straight year and fourth time in franchise history Sunday, and they’ll begin their quest for a second consecutive Eastern League championship when the playoffs start in two days.

Altoona erupted early, scoring nine runs over the first three innings, and held on for a 10-8 win over Bowie on Sunday afternoon at Prince George’s Stadium. The victory guaranteed the Curve at least a tie for the Western Division title and locked up home-field advantage in the divisional series against Akron.

Altoona won the division title outright later Sunday when Akron lost at Erie. The RubberDucks entered the day trailing the Curve by one game, and if they would have finished tied, the two teams would have been declared co-champs of the division.

The Curve celebrated their division crown in traditional postgame style, with the players and manager Michael Ryan having a blast as adult beverages sprayed all over.

“Probably the proudest I’ve been of a group,” Ryan told broadcaster Trey Wilson after the game. “Think about where we were in April to today, how much these guys have grown, how much they’ve improved as players.

“We’ve lost so many heartbreaking games, but to be able to come back and win a division … and have one of the better records in the league just shows you what this group is all about. So it just makes me extremely proud.”

The Curve will play games 1 and 2 of their best-of-five divisional series at Akron on Wednesday and Thursday. Game 3 will be Friday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field, and games 4 and 5, if necessary, will be Saturday and Sunday at home.

The Curve are in the playoffs for the ninth time in the franchise’s 20 seasons, also appearing each year from 2003-06, then in 2010 and now four years in a row beginning in 2015. They also won the regular-season division title in 2004, 2010 and last year, and EL championships in 2010 and 2017.

Altoona has the best record (78-59) in the Eastern League, is a season-high 19 games over .500 and is closing the regular season strong with four straight wins. If the Curve win today, they would match their season-high streak of five in a row.

Ke’Bryan Hayes went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs to lead the Curve offense to a big game Sunday. Altoona scored two runs in the first inning and two more in the second, then added five more in the third for a 9-0 lead.

It was 10-1 before Bowie scored six runs in the sixth off reliever Bret Helton, highlighted by a grand slam from Brett Cumberland.

Matt Eckelman gave up a ninth-inning homer but finished off the win for his 11th save.

Reliever Blake Weiman (1-0) got the win for the Curve. Bruce Zimmermann (2-3) took the loss, giving up eight runs — five earned — in 2 1/3 innings for Bowie.

Cole Tucker joined Hayes with three RBIs for the Curve. Tucker, Bryan Reynolds, Will Craig and Jordan George had two hits apiece, and Craig drove in his 101st run.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs for the Curve.

Key play: Altoona scored five runs in the third inning to break it open with a 9-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve won their second straight division title and the fourth in franchise history.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 1st: Hayes singled, scored on Craig double (1-0); Reynolds reached on Bannon error, scored on Hill groundout (2-0).

Top 2nd: Gaffney reached on Bannon error, scored on Tucker triple (3-0); Hayes single scored Tucker (4-0).

Top 3rd: George singled, scored on Gaffney bases-loaded walk (5-0); Alemais singled, scored on Tucker sacrifice fly (6-0); Pabst walked, scored along with Gaffney on Hayes double (8-0); Reynolds single scored Hayes (9-0).

Bottom 3rd: Bannon walked, scored on Hays single (9-1).

Top 4th: George singled, scored on Tucker single (10-1).

Bottom 6th: Joseph singled, scored on Mountcastle two-run homer (10-3); Rodriguez hit by pitch, Feliz singled, Bannon walked, all scored on Cumberland grand slam (10-7).

Bottom 9th: Hays solo homer (10-8).