Sports

Marauders top Hammerheads to clinch 1st-half division championship

At 9:26 p.m., almost exactly half an hour after the Marauders’ clinched a first-half division title for the first time in franchise history, the celebration moved its focus specifically to Monday’s hero. After a 30-minute wall of sound spilled out of the home clubhouse at McKechnie Field, a coherent chant began to celebrate one individual.

“Suchy, Sook-aaayyy! Suchy, Sook!” Michael Suchy’s teammates repeated the hastily invented cheer a dozen or so times before the outfielder finally ducked out of the locker room with a towel wrapped around his body to soak up some the champagne and sparkling cider that will live in the clubhouse’s carpet for the next few days. About an hour and a half later, Suchy delivered the only run of a 1-0, playoff-clinching win against the Hammerheads with a towering home run to left field.

“It’s just meant to be,” manager Michael Ryan said. “It was fitting.”

Bradenton (37-29) was driven to the postseason by one of its own. Suchy, a Southeast High School alumnus, blasted his second home run of the season onto the net covering the visiting bullpen in left field to break a scoreless tie in bottom of the sixth inning and punctuate six shutout frames from Stephen Tarpley. The starting pitcher handed the ball to his bullpen for the final three innings to close out the win and secure the Marauders’ fourth postseason appearance of its seven-season existence with a North division first-half title.

The Pirates’ Class A Advanced affiliate, which last reached the postseason by winning a second-half division title in 2014, is also a first-half champion for the first time despite trotting out a roster almost entirely new to the Florida State League and devoid of the flashy prospects who have populated McKechnie in recent seasons. None of Pittsburgh’s top eight prospects, according to MLB.com, have suited up for the Marauders this season and only four of the top-30 prospects were on the active roster for the celebration Monday. Tarpley (2-1) was one of those

For six innings, Jupiter (30-36) rolled out pitchers with major league experience, only playing with the Hammerheads for rehab assignments. Kendry Flores, a relief pitcher for the Miami Marlins last season who made one start before an injury this year, navigated his way through Bradenton’s lineup for five shutout innings despite recording only two strikeouts before ceding the mound to Nefi Ogando. Suchy battled with the relief pitcher for seven pitches before sending the eighth soaring to left field. On the first day of summer, Suchy’s fly ball carried through the warm sky above Bradenton and saddled Ogando (0-1) with only run of the game in front of 661.

Although Tarpley flirted with chaos, allowing a runner to reach scoring position during half of his six innings, he outdueled the two Major Leaguers suiting up for Miami’s FSL team. The starting pitcher danced around three hits and two walks by plowing through Jupiter for six strikeouts. He faced his most dangerous jam during the third inning when a single and double with one out gave the Hammerheads a pair of runners in scoring position with the heart of the order coming to the plate. Tarpley whiffed outfielder John Norwood, the No. 3 hitter, on five pitches then set down first baseman Taylor Ard before twirling off the mound and pumping his fist on the way back to the dugout.

“He’s just definitely someone who always wants the ball in his hand,” Suchy said. “That’s what he showed today. He really wanted it.”

Together, Suchy’s bomb and Tarpley’s gem triggered another celebration for one of the most successful groups in the organization. Most of this unheralded group spent last season in Charleston, WVa., leading Class A West Virginia to a division title in the South Atlantic League.

Even on the field, no single player has managed eye-popping production for the Marauders. The lone exception is shortstop Kevin Newman, who led the FSL in batting average before being called up to Double A Altoona on Friday. No one in the clinching lineup with more than 50 at-bats is hitting better than .300 and Bradenton’s top power hitter has belted a scant six home runs. To win a division title, the Marauders needed a homer from a .256 hitter who entered the game with one home run.

“There’s guys in every league, every team who think they should be given things,” Suchy said. “We just go out and take it. We work for everything we get.”

David Wilson: 941-745-7057, @DBWilson2

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