Jeremy Sowers ... pressure-packed win.
Strong pitching and timely home runs helped Akron claim a 6-3 victory Friday night as the Aeros took a two-to-one lead in their best-of-five Eastern League playoff series. Meanwhile, the Kinston Indians' reign as Carolina League champions came to an end with a 5-3 loss to the Salem Avalanche. Kinston hosted all three games of the Southern Division finals, but lost twice.
Akron rolled to a 6-0 lead as Jeremy Sowers blanked the SeaWolves on three hits over the first seven innings. Stephen Head hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning and league MVP Jordan Brown had a two-run shot in the seventh to key the attack.
Sowers began the season in the Cleveland Indians' rotation, was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo in June and sent to the Double-A Aeros to make this important start. He didn't disappoint.
The left-hander gave up one run and four hits over 7 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out seven. He yielded a leadoff single in the eighth and struck out the last man he faced before right-hander Randy Newsom came out of the Aeros' bullpen. The submarine-style reliever gave up two hits without getting an out, allowing the inherited runner to score.
Rich Rundles got two quick outs to get out of that jam, but yielded two unearned runs in the ninth when center-fielder Trevor Crowe made a two-out error. Jim Ed Warden then retired the only man he faced for the save.
Akron, league champion in 2003 and 2005, can advance to the finals for the fourth time in five seasons with a win Saturday. If Erie wins, the SeaWolves would host the deciding Game 5 on Sunday. The series winner will play the winner of the Northern Division series between defending champion Portland and Trenton. Portland trails, two games to one, after a 3-2 loss at home Friday night.
Akron's Bobby Brownlie (1-2, 3.17 ERA) will oppose Dallas Trahern (12-6, 3.87) in a matchup of right-handers at Canal Park on Saturday.
Brown, Head and Ryan Goleski each had two of Akron's 10 hits Friday night.
Rodney Choy Foo singled and went to third on a single by Wyatt Toregas to open the Aeros' fifth. Argenis Reyes followed with a sacrifice fly to put Akron ahead, 1-0.
Goleski doubled with two outs in the sixth and scored on Head's homer to right-center, his second of the series.
Reyes and Crowe each singled with one out in the seventh. Reyes scored on a groundout by Brandon Pinckney for a 4-0 lead. Brown followed with his homer to right.
At Kinston, former Aeros infielder Pat Osborn doubled home the second run of a two-run eighth that gave Salem its win.
The K-Tribe, which had swept both halves of the regular season, took a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Brian Finegan drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs to make it 1-0. Jose Constanza followed with a two-run single.
But Kinston starter Sung-Wei Tseng gave it right back in the top of the third. He yielded two singles and a walk with one out to load the bases. One run scored on a sac fly and two more on a double. Tseng allowed three runs and four hits over three innings.
Ryan Edell then worked three scoreless innings, allowing one hit, one walk, and striking out three.
T.J. Burton pitched a perfect seventh and the K-Tribe mounted a two-out rally in the bottom half. Finegan and Constanza each singled and Josh Rodriguez, whose walkoff homer gave Kinston a 1-0 win Thursday night, walked to load the bases. But Matt Whitney, who hit .299 with 32 homers and 113 RBI during the regular season, was called out on strikes to end the threat.
With two outs and a runner on second in the top of the eighth, a throwing error by Kinston third baseman Beau Mills enabled the go-ahead run to score. Osborn's RBI double made it 5-3.
Drafted by Cleveland in the second round out of Florida in 2002, Osborn's big year helped Kinston win the 2004 championship. He hit .342 with 10 homers and 55 RBI in 86 games that season. But he leveled off over the next 2 1/2 seasons at Akron and was released from the Indians organization earlier this season.