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Cards repeat in Appalachian League
Gillung, Billbrough combine on one-hitter, sweep away Jays
09/04/2011 9:36 PM ET
The Cards also won back-to-back Appy League championships in 1975-76.
The Cards also won back-to-back Appy League championships in 1975-76. (Johnson City Cardinals)
Nick Gillung and Logan Billbrough combined on a one-hitter Sunday as the Johnson City Cardinals beat the Bluefield Blue Jays, 4-1, to capture their second straight Appalachian League championship.

How did the club plan to celebrate?

"We're going to hit the showers," third-year manager Mike Shildt said, "and then go to Applebee's."

St. Louis' Rookie-level affiliate, which went 4-1 in the postseason, has also won back-to-back division titles in 1986-87 and 1975-76.

"It was pure bliss," Shildt said of the postgame scene. "A lot of effort and energy and determination going in day one of this year, these guys have put their heart into it."

Did the word "repeat" come up throughout the season?

"We never talked about it one time," he said. "People ask us about repeating -- what we're trying to repeat is developing players into the next level, developing championship players for the championship level, and the byproduct of that is success."

And the source was pitching. Over a career-high six one-hit innings, Gillung (1-0) struck out six and walked a pair. The first to reach on a walk, Art Charles, scored on Leo Hernandez's two-out double in the second inning.

After that, the 19th-round Draft pick faced one over the minimum, issued another free pass to Charles in the fourth.

Johnson City grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the top of the fourth against Bluefield starter Deivy Estrada (0-1), who plunked Gary Apelian and Neal Pritchard to open the inning. Jonathan Keener delivered a two-out RBI single and Pritchard scored the go-ahead run on shortstop Gustavo Pierre's error.

The Cards added two insurance runs in the eighth off reliever Jeremy Gabryszwski as Pritchard and Roberto De La Cruz stroked RBI doubles.

Pritchard, who keyed the Game 1 win, doubled twice in three at-bats and scored four runs.

"Undrafted free agent, real great story," Shildt said of his third baseman out of Elon University. "He's playing on house money."

Billbrough was money. He struck out four over three perfect innings to secure the title and his first save.

"Couldn't ask for anything more than that," the skipper said.

And if you did, you'd get Gillung. The Mercyhurst College product made 12 regular-season appearances for the Cards but only two starts. He compiled a 1.73 ERA and fanned 26 over the first 25 innings of his pro career, all good precursors to his postseason success.

Shildt said the 22-year-old left-hander actually was a third option when it came to filling a rotation spot behind a starter who was promoted to short-season Batavia and another who was shut down with arm soreness.

Gilling showed his mettle, allowing three runs on seven hits over nine innings spanning two late-August starts. He earned his first career win on Aug. 25 against Danville.

"Pitching is always crucial in playoff baseball, and he was outstanding, of course," Shildt said. "You don't expect a guy to throw a one-hitter for six innings in his third pro start."

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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