Red Sox affiliate Greenville Drive win South Atlantic League Championship
By Zach Remson
The Greenville Drive made history by defeating the Kannapolis Intimidators 8-3 to take home their first South Atlantic League Championship.
The Greenvilee Drive had a 2-1 advantage going into game four of the best-of-five championship. They quickly got out to a lead, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. The Kannapolis Intimidators battled back, tying the game up in the 4th. Much like their big league club, this Red Sox affiliate would not give up without a fight.
Three consecutive singles by Bobby Dalbec, Ryan Scott and Mitch Gunsolus loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the sixth. Dalbec, a the Drive’s power hitting third baseman, hustled home on Pedro Castellanos‘s grounder to third. Dalbec beat the throw at the plate to give the Drive a 4-3 lead.
After Tucker Tubbs‘ strikeout, Jagger Rusconi hit a single to center to drive in Scott. A few batters later, second baseman Brett Netzer blew the game wide open with a 3RBI double off the left center field wall.
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Netzer, the Red Sox third round selection this year, was lights out this postseason for the Drive. Netzer finished the postseason with a .429 average and 8RBIs in 28 at bats.
Netzer alluded to his success in the final game stemming from his disappointment a night earlier. The Drive fell to the Intimidators 5-4 in game 3 of the series. He spoke with Myra Ruiz after the game, “I had an opportunity last night in the ninth inning and I didn’t capitalize,” Netzer said. “I just wanted to hit something hard and help the team win. That was pretty hard.”
Not to be lost in the offensive success is the great work the Drive’s bullpen did to close out the game. RHP Hunter Smith earned the win, after coming in with 2 outs in the 5th. He pitched 2.1 scoreless innings with 4 strikeouts and no walks.
Smith was followed by LHP Brendan Nail and righty Juan Florentino, who both pitched scoreless innings. Florentino was on the mound to record the final out and was at the center of the Championship celebration.
The Drive was the only Red Sox affiliate to make the playoffs this season. They clinched their postseason spot in the first half, but did not take their foot off the gas. In addition to taking home their first Southern Atlantic Championship in their 12 year history, they also finished with a team record 79 wins. For a team that had close to 50 different players suit up for them, that’s a great accomplishment.
Manager Darren Fenster spoke with Myron Hosea about the challenges involved with having a large amount of player turnover.
"“I’ve never had as many guys come through here over the course of the season as we’ve had here,” said Fenster, who completed his fourth season at the helm of the Drive. “Credit to the core group that we had here at the beginning of April, who set a foundation of living up to a standard of how we’re going to go about it every day. Every single guy to their credit, when they came in, they fell in line with everybody else. It was really special to see. It’s not always been easy, and we’ve been through some tough times. These guys were challenged, and they found a way to step up. This is the culmination of just an incredible season.”"
Some of the Drive’s key players may find themselves quickly moving up the Red Sox system. In addition to his RBI in the Championship game, Bobby Dalbec hit a three-run home run in the 8th inning of the clinching game in the previous round.
The Red Sox 2016 fourth round draft pick has shown he can come through in the clutch. Dalbec, who finished the season with 13 homers and a .246/.345/.437 line in 78 games for the Drive, is SoxProspects.com’s #15 prospect.
Teammate Bryan Mata, a RHP, is ranked #5. Mata took a loss in Game 3 of the Championship (4 ER in 4.1 IP), but has had one of the more intriguing seasons in the minors. He posted a 3.74 ERA in 77 innings, and turned in a gem starting the Drive’s second game in the first round of the playoffs.
Mata gave up only 4 hits and 2 walks over a scoreless 4.1 IP with 7 strike outs. The 18-year old is far from a polished prospect. However, he offers a lot of promise for someone so young.
Another key contributor to the Drive’s season was game 4 starter Hildemaro Requena. Requena, ranked #51, gave up two runs over 4.2 innings; that was the first run he’d allowed since August 9th. Requena is definitely a player to watch; he finished his first season in Greenville with a 1.98 ERA in 95.1 innings. Those numbers would be exciting on their own, but Requena started the season as a reliever.
After taking on a starting role on July 24th, Requena went 7-0 in his last 8 regular season game. He only allowed three earned runs over that stretch, good enough for a very impressive 0.59 ERA. If he can carry that success into next season, plan to see the 20 year old righty in Salem or even Portland before 2018 is over.
Next: Red Sox prospects on their way to the Arizona Fall League
Setting a franchise record for wins and topping it off with the league championship has got to mean a lot to these young players. Not everyone on this team might make it to the major leagues. Despite that, they will always have the 2017 SAL Championship. The future of the Red Sox organization is shining bright in Greenville.