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Aquino, LaValley lead Pensacola to title

MLB.com

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos were crowned co-champions of the Southern League on Friday as they defeated the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 5-4, in 12 innings to complete a three-game sweep in the semifinals.

The title marked the first in Pensacola franchise history, and it's the first Double-A championship won by a Reds affiliate since 1988 (Chattanooga Lookouts).

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos were crowned co-champions of the Southern League on Friday as they defeated the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 5-4, in 12 innings to complete a three-game sweep in the semifinals.

The title marked the first in Pensacola franchise history, and it's the first Double-A championship won by a Reds affiliate since 1988 (Chattanooga Lookouts).

At the heart of the Blue Wahoos' victory were Aristides Aquino and Gavin LaValley, Cincinnati's Nos. 6 and 20 prospects. They combined to go 5-for-12 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the contest, with LaValley finishing 3-for-6 and Aquino delivering two go-ahead hits late in the game.

Pensacola clinches title

"What a fantastic game, obviously going extra ininngs," Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly told MiLB.com. "It's a little different playing as the road team at home, but we were able to pull it out. It was probably less than the challenge for Jacksonville, since they couldn't go home and play. [There were] challenges for both teams, but they made it really interesting."

Minor League baseball announced Thursday that this year's Southern League champions would be decided by the best-of-five Division series, with the winners of the North and South Divisions to be named co-champions. The Blue Wahoos are splitting this year's title with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Pensacola finished atop the Southern League South with a 40-30 first-half record to secure a postseason berth. Though the club didn't fare as well after the All-Star break, going 34-46, they still carried plenty of momentum into the postseason after winning their final regular-season contests.

Right-hander Deck McGuire was sensational in the series opener, firing eight scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts as Pensacola shut out Jacksonville, 2-0. Josh VanMeter paced the Blue Wahoos at the plate, with the left fielder driving in both runs with a 4-for-4 performance.

VanMeter continued to swing a hot bat in Game 2, as he collected three more hits, including a two-run home run and a double, to support an impressive pitching performance by righty Jose Lopez (8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K) and secure a 6-3 victory.

Jacksonville jumped out to an early lead with a pair of runs in the second inning, only to see Blue Wahoos tie the game two innings later. The game remained tied until the bottom of the seventh inning, when Braxton Lee put the Jumbo Shrimp ahead, 3-2, with an RBI single to center field.

The lead didn't last long, though, as LaValley and Aquino connected on back-to-back home runs in the top of the eighth inning to put Pensacola back on top.

Entering the bottom of the ninth on the brink of elimination, Jacksonville once again came up with a clutch hit as Austin Dean delivered a two-out single to plate Rodrigo Vigil, who had doubled to lead off the frame.

The two teams remained tied until Aquino came through with his second go-ahead hit of the contest in the top of the 12th inning. Blue Wahoos reliever Andrew McKirahan worked a perfect 11th and 12th innings to record the win.

"That was huge," Kelly said. "We were down, 3-2, in the eighth, got the back-to-back homers from LaValley and Aquino to take the lead. Unfortunately, we couldn't hold it in the ninth, but those were huge at-bats. Aquino getting that single in the 12th, for a guy who's had his ups and downs this year, it was a great way to finish."

VanMeter was Pensacola's offensive star in the three-game set, finishing with a .636 average and four RBIs despite an 0-for-3 performance on Friday. LaValley also had a strong series, batting .286 with a pair of home runs, while Aquino erased his 0-fer in the series by going 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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