J.T. Brubaker took the ball on the final day of the regular season and did his part to get the West Virginia Black Bears to the playoffs, Casey Hughston hit a late three-run home run and the Black Bears beat Mahoning Valley, 8-2, to extend their inaugural season in Morgantown.
Brubaker, a 2015 sixth-round pick, did not walk a batter in six innings, striking out four and allowing one run on five hits. His fastball sat around 91-92, it appeared when I checked a dude's gun, and he got a few guys looking silly with his curveball and changeup, getting all four of his punchouts over a span of five batters in the first through third innings.
Brubaker gave up a leadoff single in the first and promptly picked the runner off. He sat down eight in a row before allowing a solid single with two outs in the third. An RBI double that looked to have fooled right fielder Logan Hill accounted for the only run Brubaker would give up. He got 10 groundouts versus three flyouts. He's been great after some early struggles in his pro debut, as Wilbur pointed out.
Ke'Bryan Hayes led off the fifth with a single, his only hit of the day. Hughston tried to bunt him over but Hayes was safe on the throw to second, then the pitcher threw Erik Forgione's sacrifice attempt down the right field line to score Hayes. Mitchell Tolman hit a two-run double to right, and he scored on Daniel Arribas' single.
Ty Moore led off the eighth with a bunt single, and he eventually scored on a balk. With two outs, Hughston homered well beyond the wall in right-center to plate three.
Tolman and Arribas were the only Black Bears with two hits. Tolman impressed me at third base when I saw him earlier in the season. After the promotions of Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer, Tolman looked more than adequate at second base on Monday (Eli Nellis Not-A-Scout Disclaimer applies).
The Black Bears held a half-game lead on State College and Aberdeen entering the day. They won six of their last seven, including sweeping Mahoning Valley, to get into the playoffs. That West Virginia beat out State College is a little funny, considering the Spikes parted ways with the Bucs partially for competitive reasons. As the New York-Penn League's wild card, West Virginia will face league-leading Williamsport (Phillies) in a best-of-three semifinal series.
I don't particularly care about wins and losses at the minor-league level, because the organizations really don't. Strategy favoring winning over development wouldn't be a good thing at all.
But the players themselves do care, and that's not nothing. Brubaker and Hughston came through in a big way and guys like Hayes get to experience the playoffs at the pro level. That's not a bad thing.