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Suns ready to show fight in finals

September 08, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Late in the regular season, Hagerstown Suns manager Tripp Keister made an observation.

“When we get to the playoffs, this team is going to be a tough out,” Keister said in a spot assessment of his team’s tenacity.

But the Suns weren’t a conventional team. As excitement goes, Hagerstown had little flash and even less sizzle. Keister had to be all wet.

As it turned out, he was — with champagne.

Keister and the Suns completed a march to the South Atlantic League Northern Division title with a 6-2 win over West Virginia on Saturday to win the best-of-3 series. They did it with the grit, patience and aggressiveness they used to become first-half champions.

For encore, they get to do it again.

The Suns start all over again tonight when they host the Savannah Sand Gnats in the opening game of the best-of-5 South Atlantic League championship series, beginning at 7:05 at Municipal Stadium. The team will offer free admission to the game.

And Hagerstown will be back where it all started.

“We aren’t going to change anything from what we have been doing,” said Keister. “It’s going to be like the last series. We are going to have to play well to win.”

The championship series is going to be like a game of Russian Roulette, though.

The series will pit a pair of teams that didn’t meet in the regular season. Both teams were first-half champions in their divisions. Both managers managed at the SAL All-Star Game.

It almost seems fitting.

“We don’t know anything about them,” Keister said. “But they don’t know anything about us. We know they have some good pitching but don’t know much about their position players.”

As far as Sand Gnats’ pitching goes, you need to go no further than starters Gabriel Ynoa and Steve Matz, who pitched the New York Mets affilliate to a two-game sweep of Augusta for the Southern Division title.

Ynoa was named the South Atlantic League’s pitcher of the year after going 15-4 with a 2.72 ERA this season.

Matz pitched a gem to eliminate Augusta in a 5-0 victory, going seven innings without allowing a walk or hit in seven innings.

Savannah lost its midseason All-Stars to promotion in the second half, but stayed afloat with outfielder Brandon Nimmo, 2013 first-round draft pick, and Dilson Herrera, who came to to the Gnats in a Pittsburgh-Mets trade.

The Suns will be adjusting their roster for the series and have activated Jake Johansen, Washington’s top pick in the 2013 draft, to start tonight’s opener.

The Suns had a number of players step up in the division finals, including outfielder Isaac Ballou, first baseman Shawn Pleffner, second baseman Tony Renda and pitchers Austin Voth and Kylin Turnbull.

“In a series like this, it will be a case of who can fight adversity,” Keister said. “These guys come to play everyday, play hard and play for 27 outs. I feel like teams have to beat us.”

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