MADISON, Ala. — The Rocket City Trash Pandas exploded for 6 runs in their final two frames and beat the Montgomery Biscuits with a 7-2 final score. The win clinched the Southern League's first half North Division title, earning them a spot in the league's championship games.
Tied at one through six-and-a-half innings, the Pandas got back on the board in dramatic fashion. Outfielder Bryce Teodosio drove the first pitch he saw to right field and, when it caromed off the wall. By the time Biscuit fielder Grant Witherspoon got to the ball, Teodosio was rounding second base at full speed. Taking a wide turn around third base, Teodosio got to home plate without a tag, scoring the first ever inside-the-park home run in Trash Pandas history.
A reported attendance of over 5,000 was brought to their feet by that point, and the Trash Pandas gave them plenty more to celebrate the next inning, when they plated five more runs, punctuated by a Braxton Martinez three-run blast to left center. Martinez would finish the day with four runs batted in in a one-for-three (.333) day at the dish.
The Biscuits added a solo shot of their own in the top of the ninth, but it was futile, as the Trash Pandas’ closer Kolton Ingram ended the inning with consecutive strikeouts.
Despite scoring six in the last two innings, the Trash Panda offense was active all afternoon. Everyone in the Trash Panda lineup got on base at least once and all but one player got a hit. That’s good for a .371 on-base percentage (13/35) and a .333 batting average for the game.
Trash Pandas manager Andy Schatzley effused thanks after the game - even after getting an ice cooler dumped on him.
"I'm proud most of all for our players, proud for the fans here, proud for the affiliate, proud for everybody that's involved with player development of the angels, everybody from (Angels general manager) Perry (Minasian) all the way down," he said.
"It's the byproduct of a lot of hard work by a lot of people and we still got a long way to go," Schatzley said.
Schatzley’s right. There is a long way to go before the playoffs - a whole rest of the regular season, in fact. While the Trash Pandas’ position in the postseason is secured, continued wins improve the chances of being the #1 seed in the Southern League’s four-team playoff. The Southern League’s playoff participants are decided by the teams in each division with the highest winning percentage for each of the two halves. If a team wins the division in both halves, a wildcard team is named based on the second-highest winning percentage.
After their win today, Trash Pandas move to 39-24 on the year, six games above the second-place Tennessee Smokies in the North Division. They also clinched home field advantage in the playoff’s first round. That could be a particular advantage for the Trash Pandas, who are 25-11 at Toyota Field thus far.
“The fans were unbelievable today, the support has been unreal all season, so it was a fun moment for our team,” Teodosio said after today’s win.
The Trash Pandas hit the road for their final series of the first half with six games against the Birmingham Barons beginning Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. They return to Toyota Field on the Fourth of July for the beginning of a six-game homestand against the Chattanooga Lookouts.