Gilberto Celestino's double drove in Yunior Severino in the eighth inning, and the Twins downed the Princeton Rays 2-1 Wednesday night at Joe O'Brien Field to sweep the best-of-3 Appalachian League Championship Series. It was the Twins’ second straight league title, their eighth since 2000, and the 13th overall since the rookie league affiliate has been in Elizabethton.
"I'm fired up. It never gets old," Elizabethton manager Ray Smith said. "It doesn't matter if it's professional baseball or summer beer-league softball. If you win a championship it's a lot of fun. My first thought goes back to this group and how they've given us the effort all season from day one. They bought into how we're trying to help them and they improved."
Tyler Palm, who allowed just two hits over the final four scoreless innings, earned the win. Steffon Moore suffered the loss for Princeton.
With the pitchers controlling the action, Celestino went 2-for-3 as Elizabethton had just five hits. Lean Marrero, DaShawn Keirsey and Yelstin Encarnacion each had one hit. Smith pointed out the roster had changed dramatically since the first of the season.
"We had 14 guys we were able to promote," Smith said. "We had some guys come in from the GCL (Gulf Coast League) and they jumped right in where we were able to showcase their abilities. It was a good year, but it's always fun to win."
Both starting pitchers were effective with Elizabethton's Prelander Berroa giving up four hits and one run over five innings. Princeton's Shane Baz lasted 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven, while giving up four hits, two walks and one run.
The Rays took the lead in the top of the third with Osmy Gregerio's single down the left field line scoring Vincent Byrd.
Elizabethton's third baseman Alex Robles prevented any more scores in the inning by diving to come up with Connor Hollis' hard-hit ball and making the throw to first for a 5-3 ground out.
"I just kind of reacted to it like they teach you to do at third base," Robles said. "You have to be like a hockey goalie. I knew I had time to get up and throw and luckily we kept them at one run. Berroa did a great job at keeping them at one run and keeping us in the game."
Elizabethton got the tying run in the bottom of the fourth as Keirsey doubled to left field to score Celestino.
Grant Witherspoon went 2-for-4 to lead Princeton at the plate. However, the Rays had few scoring opportunities going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and leaving five runners stranded on base.
Two of those were in the third when Robles' defensive play kept runners at second and third. He credited the win, however, to a team effort.
"This is the closest group I've been playing with for a while," Robles said. "Everyone is great friends, and everyone wanted to win it. We had everyone's backs, and that's the most important thing."