Picture Perfect: Blue Wahoos punctuate season with first title in franchise history

On a picture-perfect fall-like afternoon, on a day splashed in sunshine, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos scripted a memorable ending to a remarkable season.

They held off Jacksonville 5-4 in 12 innings in Game 3 of a Southern League divisional playoff series here at Blue Wahoos Stadium, and they did it in typical Blue Wahoos fashion.

In a back-and-forth battle with the chance to win a share of the Southern League championship riding on it for the Blue Wahoos — the league canceled next week’s championship series because of the threat of Hurricane Irma — never-say-die Pensacola overcame a couple of deficits and made the biggest plays when it mattered to deliver the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds its first title in the six-year history of the franchise.

Aristides Aquino smacked a clutch base hit to right in the top of the 12th to give the Blue Wahoos the lead for good at 5-4. The rest was left up to reliever Andrew MiKirahan, the unlikely hero. He missed all of 2016 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery and the entire first half of this year after being traded to Cincinnati in February.

But he delivered when it mattered, pitching the final two innings. He didn’t allow a hit or a run and struck out one. He ended the game by getting John Norwood to ground out, and the moment that play was over, he celebrated with his teammates.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten the last out of the season. Being a reliever all of your life, that’s how you dream it up,” MiKirahan said. “It was amazing.”

Amazing is one way to describe it but maybe isn’t the word that does this championship game justice.

Pensacola trailed 2-0 early and was down 3-2 before home runs in the eighth by Gavin LaValley and Aquino gave the Blue Wahoos a 4-3 advantage. Jacksonville, which lost the first two games of the series but was supposed to play the final three games at home until the hurricane changed their plans, tied the game in the ninth to force extra innings.

Had a fourth and fifth game become necessary, they would have been played at MGM Park in Mississippi Saturday and Sunday.

“I was thinking last night, we want to win, but man, I don’t want to win in Biloxi in front of 12 people. We want to win this thing at home,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said.

And the Blue Wahoos did win at home, the 3,689 fans in attendance for a game that began at 1 p.m. and ended shortly after 4 p.m. cheering loudly as music played and players sprayed champagne on each other.

Pensacola won 74 games in the regular season and the memory of this moment is something Kelly planned to savor. He’s in his third year with the franchise and has won 219 games in that time.

“We did it the Wahoo way,” Kelly said, noting his team’s knack for never giving up. “We rode the waves of the game and finally caught one at the end.”

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