Heston Kjerstad has led a surge for High-A Aberdeen that has the IronBirds near the franchise’s first championship.
Aberdeen reached the South Atlantic League championship series after winning the first-half division title at 43-23. The IronBirds finished the second half of the season 35-31 with Brooklyn finishing in first place. They beat Brooklyn in three games in the first round of the playoffs.
Aberdeen lost the first game of the championship series, 5-3, to Bowling Green on Sunday. The IronBirds will try to bounce back in Game 2 on Tuesday at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium. If necessary, the third and deciding game also will be played at Aberdeen on Wednesday.
The Hot Rods scored two runs in the eighth inning to win the first game.
Centerfielder Jud Fabian homered for Aberdeen, and second baseman Billy Cook had two hits.
Daniel Lloyd took the loss after allowing two runs on three hits in three innings.
Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft who is playing his first season of professional baseball, slashed .233/.312./362 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 43 regular-season games with Aberdeen and batted .364 in the postseason semifinals. He’ll be playing in the Arizona Fall League next month.
That performance was a carryover from late in the regular season when he had seven hits in his final 16 at-bats with a homer.
In the third game against Brooklyn on Friday, Kjerstad had a key two-run double in the IronBirds’ 5-4 victory over Brooklyn in the deciding third game of the South Atlantic League semifinals.
First baseman TT Bowens also has been solid and led the team in batting (.248) and runs (51). Cook had a team-high 15 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases.
Peter Van Loon and Connor Gillispie also have been key arms for the IronBirds during their playoff run.
Van Loon helped the IronBirds even the series against Brooklyn on Thursday, allowing one run on two hits with five strikeouts and two walks in five innings. Gillispie closed out the game by allowing just one hit in four scoreless innings.
On the season, Van Loon led the team with 15 victories. Xavier Moore had 10 saves, and Ignacio Feliz had 135 strikeouts.
Bowie’s season ends: Double-A Bowie had a chance to make the Eastern League playoffs with a win in Akron on Sunday night. However, the Baysox lost to the Rubberducks, 8-5, ending their season.
Cade Povich (2-2), who was obtained from Minnesota in the trade for Jorge López on August 2nd, allowed four runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. Second baseman Connor Norby who ended the season with a .298 average, drove in a run.
Bowie ended the season with a 68-70 record and had a second half mark of 41-28. Erie, which lost to Richmond on Sunday afternoon, also had a 41-28 mark but defeated the Baysox in the season series.
Many of the Orioles’ top infield prospects — Norby, Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, César Prieto and Jordan Westburg — played for Bowie this season. Ortiz spent the most time with the Baysox, hitting .269 in 111 games before a late-season promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. Hernaiz earned a late-season call from Aberdeen.
Outfielder Colton Cowser, the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2021, hit .341 with a 1.037 OPS in 49 games after he was promoted from the IronBirds. Cowser is finishing the season with Norfolk.
Norby’a 17 home runs and Ortiz’s 71 RBIs led the team.
Garrett Stallings, who was 6-10 with a 6.28 ERA, led Bowie with 119 innings. Noah Denoyer, who’ll be playing in the Arizona Fall League, was 1-2 with two saves and a 2.61 ERA. Denoyer allowed just 30 hits in 51 2/3 innings, striking out 69 and walking 11.