09/15/2018 11:10 PM -
Kansas City, Kan. – The long ball once again turned the tide in the American Association Championship Series as the Kansas City T-Bones won their first championship since 2008 in a 5-3 win Saturday night at T-Bones Stadium over the St. Paul Saints.
In the series opener, it was two home runs by Noah Perio Jr. that allowed Kansas City to get the early series lead in a 11-4 win. Then with the series even at one a piece, it was a pair of hits by Todd Cunningham, the second a grand slam, that helped the T-Bones come back in the sixth to take a 2-1 series lead in the third game of the best-of-five Friday night. In game four with a chance to wrap up the series, Alay Lago launched a big blast down the left field line over the “mini monster” in left to break a three three tie in the sixth.
It looked early like St. Paul wanted to force a series-deciding game five on Sunday. Pitching on three days rest, opening night starter Chris Nunn rebounded from a rough outing to keep the Saints in the game as he matched T-Bones starter Jared Mortensen, putting up three scoreless innings. The lefty held the T-Bones hitless through four innings despite falling behind 1-0.
The T-Bones were able to turn a fourth inning leadoff walk by Todd Cunningham into a run. A Noah Perio Jr. fielder’s choice moved Cunningham to second, and with a wild pitch he was off to third. A sac fly to center by Adrian Nieto gave the T-Bones a 1-0 lead after four.
But St. Paul, after some early chances, finally broke through against Mortensen in the fifth. Joey Wong tied the ball game at one with an RBI single for St. Paul that, with a walk that followed to Max Murphy, would chase Mortensen from the game. Marcus Crescentini came in with one out and runners at first and second.
Kyle Barrett singled to drive in Wong to make it a 2-1 lead for the Saints, but he was caught stealing at second for a big second out of the inning on a throw from T-Bones catcher Adrian Nieto. Brady Shoemaker would single to right to make it 3-1 before Crescentini could get the third out of the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Keith Curcio led off the inning with a double off Nunn for the first KC hit and moved to third on a sac bunt from Anthony Phillips. With one out Danny Hayes hit a sharp single to center to cut the lead to 3-2.
In the sixth inning Adrian Nieto would single with one out off Nunn, and St. Paul summoned right hander Mike Devine from the bullpen to face Alay Lago. After a foul back made the count one ball and two strikes, Lago hit a high blast down the left field line that cleared the park entirely, landing in the parking lot. The park went crazy as the T-Bones had the 4-3 lead. Noah Perio added an RBI double an inning later and the rest was up to the KC bullpen.
Left Nick Lee worked a scoreless seventh and retired the first two batters of the eighth before the Saints made one last run at forcing a game five. Burt Reynolds singled and the T-Bones skipper Joe Calfapietra brought in closer Cody Winiarski to face former T-Bone Zach Walters. Walters singled to put runners at first and second, but Winiarski was able to get Dante Bichette Jr. to fly to left to end the inning.
After a scoreless bottom of the eighth for the T-Bones at the plate Winiarski worked a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to pick up his fourth post season save and close out the Saints in four games. The three games to one series win was the first title for Kansas City since the club won the 2008 Northern League and was the franchise third overall title, having also won the Northern League in 1997 when the club was located in Duluth, Minnesota. It was the team’s first American Association pennant.
Crescentini (1-0) picked up the win while Devine (0-1) was charged with the loss. The media for both clubs selected Noah Perio Jr. as the American Association Championship Series MVP.