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Suns punch in to finish job in finals

September 12, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Gene Richards hid it all with his smile.

There was a bit of a grin on his face after the Hagerstown Suns knocked off Delmarva 9-7 Saturday to win the best-of-3 South Atlantic League North Division title.

That was about as far as the celebration - outside a couple of slices of postgame pizza - went. He drew the line at accepting congratulations.

"The job isn't completed," said the Suns manager. "We haven't done much yet. We wanted to get to the playoffs and we made it. We won to move on, but we didn't do anything yet. When we get it done, come talk to me."

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The big job starts tonight. The Suns host the Kannapolis Intimidators in the best-of-5 South Atlantic League championship series today and Tuesday. The final three games will be played in North Carolina as needed, starting Thursday.

In Suns history, it's the eighth time in 25 years Hagerstown has been in the playoffs, but only the fourth time it has reached the championship level. The Suns won the Carolina League title in 1981 in the inaugural Hagerstown season, but lost title series in 1986 and 1994.

These Suns, though, are out to set their own brand of history. This is the final step in Hagerstown's first year with the New York Mets organization. The Mets enjoyed success in the playoffs when they called Columbia, S.C., home. Now they have brought the success north.

If anything, the 2005 Suns have been a team of constant change, especially in the second half of the season.

Fifty different players have worn Hagerstown uniforms. In the first half, they were part of a well-rounded team which was able to push its way to the division title. In the second half, everyone pushed back as Hagerstown fell to the bottom of the SAL standings, only rebounding in the final two weeks of the season to round into playoff shape.

"The pitching has been big for us and some of the guys have learned how to play. They have not been making the same mistakes and have been getting quality at-bats, and now we have some punch."

The Suns have groomed their lineup, regaining third baseman Grant Psomas, infielder Russ Triplett, catcher Rafael Arroyo and finally outfielder Donte Brinkley back to the roster. The group had been sent its separate ways by promotions, but have been added to the playoff run.

They will add some depth and punch to Hagerstown's offense against a Kannapolis team which got stronger through pitching to win the South Division's second-half title. The Intimidators finished the season with a 3.57 team ERA.

Jeff Landing, who started the season here and was recently elevated from Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League, will start the opener.

The Suns and Intimidators, a White Sox affiliate owned by the Dale Earnhart family, were 3-3 this season with two games lost to rainouts. Hagerstown won three of four games during Kannapolis' visit in May, while the Intimidators swept both games in a rain-shortened series - a doubleheader - at the end of July.

Hagerstown outscored Kannapolis 26-22 in the six games with a 44-35 edge in hits.

"We played them in a pair of short games and they took both of them," Richards said. "I hope they see a different team. I hope we hold our own against them. They really didn't see us and I hope we can catch them taking us lightly."

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