JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Francisco Acuna, Daniel Rivero and Josh Bissonette were the last players to exit the visiting dugout at TVA Credit Union Ballpark on Sunday, the three members of the Bristol Pirates lingering longer than the rest after a 7-5 season-ending setback to the Johnson City Cardinals.
“It sucks to go out like this, because we have a bunch of awesome guys on this team,” Bissonette said. “You can’t just look at the scoreboard, you have to look at the last three months and how we’ve competed. We’re just a resilient group of guys who are tough and never give up. It’d be nice to keep playing, but it is what it is.”
Clutch hitting by Malcolm Nunez and Chandler Redmond propelled the Cardinals to Sunday’s victory in the deciding Game 3 of the Appalachian League’s West Division Championship Series.
Bristol got the potential go-ahead run to the plate with one out in the top of the ninth inning, but Johnson City reliever Tyler Peck coaxed Jesus Valdez to bounce into a game-ending double play.
The Pirates watched from the dugout as Johnson City celebrated near the mound.
“This group gave it all – from day one till this point,” said BriBucs manager Kieran Mattison. “I told them they had nothing to hang their heads about and this experience will pay big dividends for them later in their careers.”
Overcoming a 1-6 start, Bristol’s minor league baseball franchise posted its first winning season since 2008 and reached the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
“That was important to us and we had a lot of fun doing it,” said Bristol first baseman Matt Morrow.
Morrow had three of Bristol’s 11 hits in the back-and-forth game, but Nunez and Redmond had the biggest knocks.
Nunez smacked a two-run double with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Cardinals ahead for good. Meanwhile, Redmond rocked a two-run homer in the sixth and finished with four RBIs.
“It was two evenly-matched teams,” Mattison said. “It boils down to the balls that fell and they got a little more of those than we did today.”
A former star at Gardner-Webb University, Redmond was a Pirate killer in 2019.
He hit .360 (9-for-25) with five home runs and 10 RBIs against the BriBucs in the regular season, while going 3-for-9 with two homers and five RBIs against them in the three playoff contests.
“Knowing that I’ve had past success against somebody is a real confidence booster for me in the box,” Redmond said.
After falling 5-4 in the series opener, Johnson City bounced back with 7-4 and 7-5 triumphs.
Overall, the teams split their 12 games over the course of the summer and 11 of those contests were decided by three runs or less.
“All year, they played tough and we played tough,” Morrow said. “We knew coming in it was going to be a dogfight.”
What’s next for members of the Pirates?
Some will gather in a couple of weeks for the annual instructional league in Bradenton, Florida.
Others will go home and wait until it’s time to report to spring training.
All of them will take time to reflect during the offseason on their Appalachian League experience.
“For me as a player it was two weeks,” Mattison said. “I gave myself a two-week notice to hang my hat on the previous season and review. Then after that, I turned the page and got ready for the next year.”
Aaron Shackelford will certainly savor his 2019.
He had two hits on Sunday and clubbed a two-run homer in the fifth inning that gave Bristol a brief 4-3 lead.
Talk about an eventful nine months.
He got married to his wife, Brooke, in January.
The infielder earned NAIA player of the year honors in the spring at The Master’s University in California
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 14th round of June’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
He compiled a .274 batting average with eight homers and 36 RBIs to earn team MVP honors with the BriBucs.
“It’s been a life-changing year,” Shackelford said. “I’m super thankful for the experience. I had a great experience in college and a great experience in my first year of pro ball. A lot of guys don’t get to say that.”
NOTES: Dylan Pearce was the winning pitcher, while Yordi Rosario was tagged with the loss. … Bissonette had two hits for Bristol and compiled a .500 batting average in three playoff games. … It was the first postseason matchup between the franchises since 1955. The Johnson City Cardinals beat the Bristol Twins in that best-of-three semifinal series as Jim Hemric pitched a no-hitter in the decisive third game. … The Cardinals host the Burlington Royals in Game 1 of the Appy League Finals today. Burlington posted a 5-4, 17-inning win over the Pulaski Yankees on Sunday in Game 3 of the Appalachian League East Division Championship Series.