Zach Haake authored the setup, then Reed Rohlman provided the storybook ending for the Lexington Legends at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Friday night.
A former star for the University of Kentucky, Haake pitched six no-hit innings then Rohlman came through with a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 13th and the Legends beat the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 to clinch their second straight South Atlantic League championship.
“I think this (game) was kind of the epitome of what our season was all about, I really do,” said first-year Legends Manager Brooks Conrad, who played in 38 games for the team in 2003. “We preached from day 1 that one of our expectations of this group, no matter how much it changed throughout the course of the year, was that we’re gonna play hard until the last out is made every single game of the season ... I’m just so proud of this entire group and proud to be the manager of this team. It was an incredible season.”
The Legends closed the year on a tear. After going 6-2 in their last eight regular-season games they won their first four postseason contests, sweeping Augusta in the best-of-three Southern Division Championship Series then taking a 2-0 lead over Hickory in the best-of-five SAL Championship Series. The Crawdads avoided the sweep with a 5-1 victory in game 3 on Thursday in Lexington, but they were confounded by the Legends’ pitching on Friday.
Haake struck out six and walked two and was in line for the win after the Legends took a 1-0 lead on Nathan Eaton’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. But in the top of the seventh, Hickory’s Pedro Gonzalez tied the game 1-1 with a solo homer off Legends reliever Daniel James.
Brandon Marklund came on in the eighth and pitched four brilliant innings for the Legends, allowing just one hit and striking out three. Tyler Gray pitched the last two innings and picked up the win, striking out four and holding the Crawdads hitless to set the stage for Rohlman’s walk-off heroics.
It was a sweet bit of redemption for Rohlman, who at 24 is the second-oldest player on the Legends’ roster. The first baseman struck out three times on the night before belting the game-winner.
The Legends, the Class A minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, are the fourth SAL team to repeat as champs. The Lakewood BlueClaws last accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010. Greensboro won the first three titles in SAL history (1980-82) and Savannah won in 1993 and 1994. The Legends pulled off the repeat with a lineup on Friday that did not feature a single player that started in last year’s SAL Championship Series.
SAL Championship Series
Lexington vs. Hickory
Game 1 at Hickory, N.C.: Legends 6, Crawdads 4
Game 2 at Hickory, N.C.: Legends 7 Crawdads 0
Game 3 at Lexington: Crawdads 5, Legends 1
Game 4: Legends 3, Crawdads 1 (13)