The race is finally over. After a thrilling month of July in which it seemed like all four teams in the East Division had a chance to claim the second half title, the pecking order was set Thursday night.
While the Morehead City Marlins got a road win over the Holly Springs Salamanders, the SwampDogs earned an 11-4 victory over the Wilmington Sharks, clinching a first-round matchup between Fayetteville and Morehead City.
"It feels like everything is falling into place," said Logan Jarvis after the game. "Everyone is excited and playing loose, there's no worries on this team."
The SwampDogs mashed their way to success in this one, reaching the 10-run mark for the seventh time this summer in Coastal Plain League play. Six different Fayetteville players had RBIs, with Jarvis (Belmont), Jay Hayes (Florida Gulf Coast), Matt Kelly (Portland) each driving in two or more. Every SwampDogs' starter reached base at least once, as the team managed both double-digit hits and walks.
"I think walks are always a pretty telling number," Jarvis said. "When guys have trouble throwing strikes, it puts us in fastball counts and guys are ready to hit."
Hayes agreed, saying that the SwampDogs didn't try to do too much and let the game come to them instead.
With a dynamic offense supporting him, Dillon Brown (Cal State Fullerton) consistently pounded the strike zone on the way to a complete game. Fayetteville's starter needed just 97 pitches and threw nearly 70 percent of them for strikes to improve to 4-0 this season.
"I focused on attacking the hitters and coming at them with my stuff," Brown said. "I'm just trying to make my pitch and if they swing and miss it's great."
As Morehead City defeated Holly Springs minutes before the SwampDogs and Sharks completed play, the Marlins officially clinched the second half division title. Since Fayetteville has already locked up second place in the East Division overall standings, it will be the SwampDogs traveling to Morehead City for the East Semifinal this coming Sunday.
"We had a couple tough spots on our season, but hearing that we made the playoffs is awesome," Brown said. "Can't wait to go out there and try and win a Petitt Cup!"
The SwampDogs will play their final home game of the regular season Friday night against the Peninsula Pilots. It's Fan Appreciation Night at The Swamp, featuring the summer's final fireworks extravaganza plus free 3D glasses courtesy of Linda Devore for N.C. House 44!
"I just want to thank the fans for always having our backs and supporting us this season," Brown said. "Playing at The Swamp has been an experience I'll never forget, and being able to play in front of them one last time will end this summer going into the playoffs on a very high point."