Kole Cottam and Tanner Nishioka each drove in a run and Daniel Gonzalez turned in five solid innings as the Salem Red Sox defeated the Carolina Mudcats 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at Haley Toyota Field, clinching the Carolina League’s Northern Division second-half crown.
Salem will face first-half champ Wilmington in the first round of the Mills Cup playoffs, with the best-of-five series beginning with the first two games in Salem on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a passed ball from Mudcat catcher Nick Kahle and a double off the right field wall from Cottam that scored Devlin Granberg. Carolina clawed back with a run in the third after Trever Morrison lead off the inning with a double, made his way to third on a ground out and came home on Rob Henry’s sacrifice fly.
Nishioka gave the Sox some needed insurance in the bottom of the six by driving a single to center for the game’s final run after newcomer Triston Casas laced a two-out single and fellow newcomer Tyler Esplin walked .
Gonzalez gave up little else in his five-inning stint, allowing only the lone run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
Logan Browning tossed three scoreless innings of relief and Andrew Schwaab tossed a perfect ninth to earn his 13th save of the season.
“The first half...we learned a lot of lessons,” said Salem manager Corey Wimberly. “We applied those lessons in the second half and that allowed us to come out on top.”
TRANSACTIONS: For a team that saw its share of callups during the year, Salem had two more just before the divison-clinching game on Sunday.
First baseman Michael Osinski was called up to Triple-A Pawtucket and center fielder Jagger Rusconi was assigned to Double-A Portland. In return, Salem received infielder Triston Casas and outfielder Tyler Esplin from Low-A Greenville. Casas hit 19 homers and drove in 78 runs for the Drive while Esplin hit five homers, 26 doubles and had 43 RBIs. Casas had a pair of hits and Esplin added a base hit in Sunday’s game.
ON DECK: The Sox and Mudcats complete the regular season Monday at 1:05 p.m. at Haley Toyota Field. Salem is scheduled to send Thad Ward (3-3, 2.33) to the mound to face Carolina’s Scotty Sunitsch (2-0, 1.26).