By Joe Southern
The Sugar Land Skeeters swept both playoff opponents to win their first Atlantic League of Professional Baseball championship with a 5-3 victory Friday night at the Long Island Ducks.
The championship came in just the fifth year of the franchise and was the third playoff appearance for the Skeeters. It was an improbable accomplishment for a team that struggled to keep a winning record all season and nearly collapsed at the end with a 4-14 skid that ended with a four-game series sweep and an undefeated six-game run in the playoffs.
“They stuck together and pulled it through the tough times,” owner Bob Zlotnik said.
The Skeeters were 35-35 and five games out of first at the end of the first half of the season. They came on strong in the second half, building a three-game lead before hitting the skid and sliding toward the brink of playoff elimination.
The Skeeters rebounded and went 10-0 at the end, eliminating the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs from playoff contention, sweeping the York Revolution for the Freedom Division title and downing the Ducks of Long Island for the championship.
“The team did really well. We kind of had our ups and downs during the season,” Zlotnik said.
Team President Jay Miller earned his 11th championship ring as a baseball executive.
“To win it my first year here is really great fun,” he said. “We have a great team, great ownership and great fans and that just made it fun.”
Among his stated goals at the start of the season were leading the league in attendance and winning a championship.
“We got one of the two,” he said. “Next year I’ll have the same two goals.”
He credited the organization from top to bottom for the championship.
“(Manager) Gary (Gaetti) and his coaching staff and his players were such a great group to work with. Everyone here from the front office and the fans, everyone’s had such a great attitude.”
He said many of the players have never won a title before.
“To do it for the first time is something you’ll never forget,” he said.
Zlotnik credited Gaetti for holding things together and keeping a positive attitude.
“The key to the season was Gary Gaetti had the confidence to know that he had a team that could win the championship. … He kept reassuring us that we were going to win this thing this year. He kept everybody’s morale up throughout the season,” Zlotnik said.
The Skeeters finished the regular season at 74-66. They hosted the York Revolution for the first two games of the Freedom Division series and won the third game in York. They repeated that in the championship round against the Long Island Ducks.
Championship Game 3
The Sugar Land Skeeters topped the Long Island Ducks 5-3 after a three-run rally in the seventh to take their first ever Atlantic League Championship title.
Sean Gallagher managed seven innings with two earned runs and six strikeouts, while Derrick Loop earned his 33rd save of the season. Juan Martinez was named the 2016 MVP of the Skeeters. The team made history by becoming the first in the league to go 6-0 in the playoffs.
The Ducks struck early, with Fehlandt Lentini stealing home and scoring from third base with Delta Cleary Jr. at bat. The Skeeters responded in the top of the fourth with a double to left field from Lance Zawadzki, bringing Jeremy Barfield and Travis Scott across the plate to give the Skeeters a 2-1 lead going into the fifth.
The Ducks tied things up in the bottom of the fifth after a double into center field brought Lentini in from second to score. Cody Puckett singled to third base, but a throwing error from third baseman Juan Martinez allowed Puckett to advance to second and Lew Ford to score, giving the Ducks a 3-2 lead going into the sixth.
The Skeeters continued to push, however, with a three-run rally in the seventh beginning with Martinez’s single to center field allowing Wilfredo Rodriguez to plate a run. Josh Prince’s single to center field brought the Skeeters further ahead, plating Jeff Dominguez and Martinez.
The Skeeters went to the bottom of the seventh with a 5-3 lead over the Ducks.
Loop came in to close the game and assuring the Skeeters their first championship.
Championship Game 2
The Sugar Land Skeeters defeated the Long Island Ducks 2-0 on Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Atlantic League Championship Series to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Skeeters are now 5-0 in the 2016 postseason and will hit the road for a potential elimination game on Friday. The last three games in the best of five championship series will be held in Long Island.
Michael Nix earned his first win of the postseason after six scoreless innings with five strikeouts and a walk. Matt Larkins was pegged with his second loss of the postseason after giving up a run on two hits with four strikeouts.
Sugar Land and Long Island were scoreless going into the sixth until Travis Scott broke the game open with a two-run blast to right to all but secure the 2-0 victory. Derrick Loop struck out the side to record his third save of the postseason.
Championship Game 1
Powered by a pair of two-run homers in the fourth inning, the Sugar Land Skeeters walloped the Long Island Ducks 7-1 on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Atlantic League Championship Series at Constellation Field.
The Skeeters are now 4-0 in the 2016 postseason and riding an eight-game winning streak. Jake Hale earned his first win of the postseason after going six innings, only giving up a run on seven hits with four strikeouts and a walk. Bobby Blevins picked up his first loss of the postseason after giving up six runs on nine hits with one strikeout and a walk in just four innings of work.
The Skeeters got on the board in the bottom of the first with RBI singles from Delwyn Young and Lance Zawadzki that made it a 2-0 lead. Ruben Gotay grounded into a double play in the top of the second, scoring Lew Ford to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Juan Martinez’ two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth extended the Skeeters lead to 4-1. Jeremy Barfield added a two-run blast of his own that pushed it to 6-1. Martinez tacked on another run and his third RBI of the night on a base hit in the seventh that scored Lance Zawadzki to make it 7-1.