Salt River did its part, defeating Scottsdale, 3-2, at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. But it didn't get any help from Glendale. Mesa clinched the division with a 9-3 victory and will play in Saturday's AFL Championship Game against Surprise.
Despite finishing the season on a seven-game winning streak, Salt River was unable to overcome its deficit in the division. Left-hander Mike Montgomery said though the ending wasn't what they wanted, the Rafters were pleased with their effort.
"We knew going in we couldn't really control what Mesa does," Montgomery said. "We felt confident as a team. We wanted to go into this week and win out and force Mesa to win. I felt like we had a good fall league."
Montgomery, the Rays' No. 8 prospect, threw two scoreless innings in relief Thursday. He lowered his ERA to 2.57 in 14 innings this fall.
Montgomery was a part of a well-pitched game by both teams. The game featured a matchup of starters ranked in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list. Salt River right-hander Aaron Sanchez (No. 20) faced Scottsdale right-hander Kyle Crick (No. 42).
Crick threw three no-hit innings and struck out five batters. Sanchez, however, got the victory. He allowed one run on six hits in five innings. The Blue Jays top prospect finished the fall with a 1.16 ERA in 23 1/3 innings.
Montgomery said both Crick and Sanchez lived up to their hype.
"Both are really, really great arms," Montgomery said. "Seeing Sanchez this whole fall league, he's going to be pretty good one day. He's good now, but he's going to be really good. Crick, from what I saw, has a great arm and great stuff."
The Scorpions took an early lead against Sanchez in the third inning. Center fielder Mason Williams doubled and eventually came around to score the game's first run. The Yankees' No. 2 prospect finished the game 2-for-3.
Once Crick left the game, however, the Rafters were able to get on the scoreboard and tie the game in the fourth inning. In the fifth, catcher Dustin Garneau led off the inning with a home run and right fielder Stephen Piscotty drove in an insurance run.
It would prove to be just enough to briefly keep Salt River's championship hopes alive. But, in the end, the Rafters fell just short.
With the AFL finished, Montgomery completed his first season in the Rays organization. He was a part of the package the Royals traded last December for right-hander James Shields. One of the keys to that deal was outfielder Wil Myers, who was named AL Rookie of the Year on Monday.
Myers began the season in Triple-A Durham where he was teammates with Montgomery and right-hander Chris Archer, who was also a finalist for the award. Montgomery said he enjoyed watching his teammates have so much success in the Major Leagues and hopes to join them in Tampa Bay soon.
"For me it's fun," Montgomery said. "They're great players and to see the kind of talent and see them in the big leagues, it's motivating and exciting that I get to play with them and they're on my team. We've got a lot of great players. I want to try to do my best and be a part of that one day."
For now, however, Montgomery, a California native, will return home to begin the offseason.
"I'll take some time off and then start things up again," Montgomery said. "I'll start throwing and getting in shape for next spring and get as ready as I can for next spring."