MOREHEAD CITY — Pitching paved the road to the Marlins’ second straight Petitt Cup championship.
Morehead City had the best staff this Coastal Plain League season and proved it again Sunday with 11 strikeouts while giving up just three hits and no walks in the series-clinching 6-2 win over the Macon Bacon.
The club became the first team to claim back-to-back titles since 2014, thanks to a 3-0 triumph in game 1 Thursday. The Bacon took the second contest 11-4 on Saturday.
“This is incredibly hard,” Marlins manager Jesse Lancaster said. “This league is very competitive. It gets better every summer. Macon is a great team. We played a lot of good teams in the playoffs. I can’t even put into words how hard it is to do what these guys did. I’m so proud of the effort they gave every single day.”
Jack Myers (Butler) earned the victory on the mound, striking out four and allowing one unearned run on one hit in four innings. He took the bump in the second inning and pitched through the sixth.
“I always have a little bit of jitters, but once I’m out there, I don’t feel much,” he said. “After I get the first three outs, that settles the nerves. I wanted to take it all the way. That’s always my mindset when I go in, but we have a lot of guys in the bullpen who can get it done.”
Myer’s performance was even more remarkable considering it was just his third appearance of the summer. He joined the team late and had put just 6 1/3 innings on the mound and given up five runs in that time.
“That was a big pickup,” Lancaster said. “When I say this is a full summer thing, he’s a perfect example. We recruited all summer long to keep the roster looking good, and he was a huge addition. That was an unbelievable performance from him tonight.”
Morehead City ranked first in the CPL with a 3.55 ERA – only one other team was under 4.00 – and also ranked first in strikeouts with 576. Fayetteville was second with 473 strikeouts. The Marlins ranked second in walks by giving up just 166.
Leo Perez (Texas A&M Corpus Christi) pitched the first two innings and had the only hiccup of the night, giving up a homer to the second batter of the game, Jared Miller (Notre Dame).
Otherwise, Perez, who shined this season with a 2.86 ERA in 34 2/3 innings, locked down Macon. He struck out the other three batters in the opening inning and fanned two of three in the second.
Ryder Yakel (Harding) took over in the seventh and struck out one and gave up one hit in two innings. Cal Hehnke (Nebraska-Omaha) closed the book on the Bacon, striking out one in a hitless ninth.
“We were pretty well-rounded this season,” Lancaster said. “Once we started playing good defense midsummer, we hit our stride. Our pitchers carried us in the first half until the offense got on board. We were firing on all cylinders toward the end of the summer.”
Hunter Shepherd (Catawba) continued his hot playoff run when he tied it up at 1-1 in the fourth inning with a double down the left-field line to score Zack Miller (Delaware).
Shepherd hit a robust .500 (6-for-12) in Morehead City’s four playoff wins with five RBIs and three runs. He was third on the team during the regular season in average (.333) and second in both RBIs (42) and extra-base hits (15).
The home team added three more runs in the frame to take a 4-1 lead. Shepherd scored on a Jacob Reimold (Saint Leo) single to left center, and Bryan Kowalski (Pfeiffer) drove home Reimold and Blaze Glenn (Youngstown State) with a single up the middle.
Shepherd added an insurance run in the fifth when he plated Dusty Baker (East Carolina) with a single down the right-field line.
The Bacon scored its second run of the night in the seventh on an error.
The Marlins set a franchise mark with 37 wins in the regular season and hit the 40-win mark for the first time ever with four playoff victories to end up 41-15.
Macon continued its meteoric rise as a franchise, ending its season 33-23. The Bacon made the playoffs in their inaugural season last year and then hosted and won a playoff game for the first time in franchise history this season before advancing to their first Petitt Cup Final.
“We’re breaking barriers every year,” said Macon manager Danny Higginbotham who spent a year in Morehead City as an assistant in 2015. “Last year, we just made the playoffs. This year, we went all the way to the championship, so the future is bright. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
The Bacon evened the series at 1-1 Saturday night with a thorough 11-4 triumph.
Macon showed why it was one of the best offensive teams in the Coastal Plain League by posting its 11 runs in the first four innings.
“Our offense has carried us all year,” Higginbotham said. “That is how we win games. We need to score.”
Alex Canty (Southeast Missouri State) accounted for four of those runs in the fourth inning with a grand slam homer to left field to make it 11-2.
Calvin Estrada (Long Beach State), Brandon Ashy (Texas A&M) and Miller each tallied two RBIs.
Estrada and Miller were two of the best hitters in the CPL this season with Estrada ranking first in extra-base hits (31), second in average (.361) and fourth in RBIs (46). Miller ranked seventh in extra-base hits (24), ninth in average (.337) and 12th in RBIs (38).
The Bacon ranked second in the league in average (.281), third in extra-base hits (143) and fourth in RBIs (288).