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Cards stay alive again, will face Burlington in Appy League finals

Joe Avento • Updated Sep 1, 2019 at 11:50 PM

The Johnson City Cardinals’ backs were against the wall again Sunday night, and that’s exactly where they’ve done their best work as of late.

Facing elimination for the fourth time in six days, the Cardinals stayed alive again. This time, they’re going to the Appalachian League championship series.

Chandler Redmond drove in four runs and Johnson City came from behind to beat the Bristol Pirates 7-5 in the Appy League semifinals at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

The victory gave the Cardinals a 2-1 series win and moved them to the finals, where they will face the Burlington Royals, who beat the Pulaski Yankees 5-4 in 17 innings in Sunday night’s decisive Game 3 of the other semifinal. That game ended just before midnight and then the Royals had to make the two-hour drive.

The best-of-three finals will begin Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Johnson City after being moved up a day in an attempt to avoid any ramifications from Hurricane Dorian in Burlington, North Carolina. After Monday’s game, the Cards will be on the road for the final two games of the championship series.

The Cardinals had to win the final two games of the regular season to win the West Division. Then, after losing the playoff opener to Bristol, they had to win two in a row to advance to the finals.

“That’s what these guys are capable of doing,” Johnson City manager Roberto Espinoza said. “They have been ready for it and they accepted the challenge.”

The Cards will be going for their fifth Appy League championship since 2010. They last won it in 2016.

Monday’s championship series opener is set for 6:30 p.m at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

RIGHT GUY, RIGHT PLACE

Redmond had already produced a two-run single to open the scoring in the fourth inning. When he stepped to the plate in the sixth, Bristol was leading 4-3. Aaron Antonini was on second base after hitting a double.

“That’s what you dream of as a kid, getting a chance to play minor league baseball and getting up with runners in scoring position, you can’t dream of it any better,” Redmond said.

Redmond got ahold of a fastball and crushed it over the right-center field wall. He took a split second to admire the ball’s flight before rounding the bases.

“It felt good,” he said. “I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it. One of the best feelings in the world.”

ONE LAST RALLY

Redmond’s shot put Johnson City up 5-4, but the Cards still had some rallying to do. When Cardinals center fielder Trejyn Fletcher’s ill-advised throw to third base flew over the head of the cutoff man and the third baseman and wound up going out of play, it allowed Bristol to forge a 5-5 tie.

It wasn’t until Malcom Nunez’s two-run double in the seventh that the Cards had the lead for good.

It still wasn’t easy. Walker Robbins was called upon to close it out and after getting the first batter, he issued a walk and hit a batter.

Tyler Peck came on and sealed the deal with one pitch when Jesus Valdez hit a grounder to third. Nunez stepped on the bag and threw to first for a game-ending double play.

Dylan Pearce was the winning pitcher after holding Bristol to one run in three innings of relief.

Redmond, Nunez, Antonini and Mateo Gill each had two of the Cardinals’ nine hits. Matt Morrow had three hits and Aaron Shackelford added a two-run home run for Bristol, which was making its first postseason appearance since 2002.

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