CHARLESTON, S.C. — It was a tale of two halves for Charleston this season. After finishing with the worst record in the Carolina League in the first half, Tampa Bay’s Single-A affiliate rode a 39-26 record in the second half en route to its third consecutive league title.

The RiverDogs defeated the Down East Wood Ducks, 7-5, to sweep the best-of-3 series. They became the first Carolina League team since 2008 to finish last in their division in the first half and go on to win the championship.

According to first-year Charleston manager Sean Smedley, the turnaround was part of the growth process.

“We had a young group, a talented group, but we had a lot of things to work on and get better at,” he said. “It’s a testament to the guys — they went out and got better each day. They started learning themselves and learned how to play this game at a high level, and they ended up winning the championship.”

The Wood Ducks rallied late in the game, but on Tuesday, Charleston got all the offense it needed during a seven-run first inning to send the home crowd happy at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.

And the RiverDogs did all that damage against top Rangers pitching prospect Brock Porter. Cooper Kinney, who led the Carolina League in hits this season with 125, got Charleston on the board with a two-RBI double. With two outs, the RiverDogs batted around while tacking on five more runs, including Raudelis Martinez‘s second home run of the playoffs.

On the mound, starter Trevor Martin held the Wood Ducks at bay. The Rays’ No. 18 prospect allowed three runs on five hits while striking out five in 5⅔ innings to cap off a productive season in which he went 10-5 with a 3.52 ERA over 25 games (22 starts) for Charleston. Like much of his team, he really took off in the second half, compiling an 9-1 record.

“Trevor was unbelievable tonight,” Smedley said. “The gameplan going in was use your fastball and go after hitters and mix off of that. He stuck with it and gave us great length and put us in a great spot to win a ballgame.”

After defeating Myrtle Beach, 2-1, in the semifinals, Charleston traveled to Grainger Stadium to kick off the Championship Series. Game 1 took a different tone with the RiverDogs going down early and rallying to victory. Smedley pointed to their ability to both come back late and hold onto an early lead as examples of the team’s versatility.

The string of three straight championships correlates with Charleston’s affiliation with Tampa Bay, and the skipper attributed that success to the organization’s winning mentality:

“It’s part of the Rays’ way, hard work and getting after it every day. Going out there and competing to win.”

Allison Mast is a contributor for