The Sugar Land Skeeters started last week 1.5 games behind the Lancaster Barnstormers with 10 games to go in the first half of the season.
After winning six of seven games against the Barnstormers, the Skeeters earned the Freedom Division first half title, and secured a spot in the post-season playoffs.
“It feels great to be in first place. I am really proud of our guys. They deserve it and I told them, don’t look back know. We have a chance to do more and we can’t look back,” Skeeters’ Manager Pete Incaviglia said. “For a seven-game series you just game plan. You go with what you see and with what your gut says. You have to give your bullpen guys some rest, so you don’t always have everyone available. Everyone on the team just did their job.”
The division-winning game on Sunday night saw the Skeeters behind 4-1 after two innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Courtney Hawkins led off with a single and scored on Kyle Kubitza’s double. Anthony Giansanti followed with a single, sending Kubitza to third, where he scored on a balk. Albert Cordero then singled, scoring Giansanti to tie the game at 4.
“This was a big series for us,” Cordero said. “We had an opportunity to make the playoffs, and we did whatever it took.”
The Skeeters scored the winning run in the fifth inning when Colin Walsh walked and moved to second on Hawkins’ single. Kubitza then singled, scoring Walsh. Hawkins then scored on Cordero’s sacrifice fly-out and the Skeeters held on to their 6-4 lead to win their 39th game of the season and claim the division title and best record in the league. Konnor Wade pitched five innings, giving up just one earned run, and improving his record to 4-1. Felipe Paulino pitched the ninth inning for his league-leading 17th save of the season. Kyle Kubitza had three hits in four at-bats with two runs-batted-in in his final game with the Skeeters as he announced his retirement after the game.
Last Monday, the Skeeters started their showdown series with Lancaster with an 8-3 win. Alvaro Rondon was 4-4 with two runs-batted-in, and Derek Norris had three hits and scored two runs to lead the Skeeters. Kubitza, Hawkins and Giansanti had two hits each. Dallas Beeler pitched 7.2 innings, allowing just three hits and three runs to get the win. Kraig Sitton pitched the final 1.1 innings to close out the win.
“Sitton has done an unbelievable job for us. He comes out in key situations for us down the stretch here and does a great job,” Incaviglia said.
On Tuesday, the Barnstormers rallied for five runs in the sixth inning to get their first win of the series. Giansanti led the Skeeters with two home runs and five runs-batted-in. Matt Chavez added three hits to improve his average to .340.
On Wednesday, James Russell pitched seven innings of one-run baseball and the Skeeters’ hitters came alive late to score three runs in the seventh inning and two runs in the eight to win 6-1. Hawkins was 3-4 with a home run and two runs-batted-in, and Barrett Barnes, Kubitza and Giansanti had two hits each.
“Russell clutched up and pitched seven great innings,” Incaviglia said.
Thursday night, Casey Coleman pitched 6.1 innings allowing just one hit and no runs to improve his earned run average to 0.96. Sitton and Paulino finished the shutout. Hawkins hit his 12th homerun of the season and Barnes was 2-3 for the Skeeters.
“Casey has been a godsend for us. As soon as we got him, he’s pitched so many key innings for us. He’s given us great starts and in keeping us in games. You can’t ask for anything more than what he has done. He’s been just fantastic every time out,” Incaviglia said.
On Friday, the Skeeters were tied 4-4 before scoring five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to keep their winning streak alive. The Skeeters took advantage of four walks, including two intentional walks, one error and two hits in the eighth inning. Chavez had two hits for the Skeeters.
Saturday night was all Beeler as he pitched eight innings of no-hit ball in a 4-0 win. Walsh and Giansanti had three hits each.
“Everyone has been picking each other up. If one guy doesn’t do it, the next guy kind of puts us on his back and goes after it. We really wanted this game. We are coming out knowing every game is big. We want to finish it here. Make sure we get a chance to do it here. Coco (Albert Cordero) did a great jump catching me for the first time tonight,” Beeler said. “The guys behind me are making unbelievable plays behind me. Guys are diving or making back-handed stops. The guys out in the field are saving me. I think I owe my shortstop (Alvaro Rondon) a few drinks for his plays tonight. Each inning was a little different tonight. Some innings it was my breaking ball that was working really well. Other innings it was my fastball. Some it was the change-up. We just did a good job of finding out really quickly what was working and what wasn’t. Coco did a good job of staying on the same page with me.”
The Skeeters play three games at York to complete the first half of the season, and then move on to Long Island for a three-game series to start the second half of the season. The Atlantic League All-Star game will be at Long Island on July 11. The Skeeters will play their next home game on July 13 against the Road Warriors who come to town for a seven-game series.
Kyle Winkler and Kyle Kubitza announced their retirements, both going out on top. Winkler pitched 21.1 innings this season and had a record of 1-0 with a 3.79 earned run average. Kubitza, in his last game and with the division title on the line, was 3-4 with two runs-batted-in. He finished his season batting .261 with seven home runs and 37 runs-batted-in.
The Skeeters signed right-handed pitchers Alex Wimmers and Angel Nesbitt.
Skeeters of the Week
There were a number of heroes last week such as Anthony Giansanti who hit .560 and had three home runs and eight runs-batted-in; Courtney Hawkins who hit .462; Derek Norris who hit .455; and Barrett Barnes who hit .357 with eight runs-batted-in.
On the mound, Dallas Beeler pitched 15.2 innings and allowed just three earned runs, while Konnor Wade pitched 10 innings, giving up just two earned runs. Casey Coleman pitched 6.1 innings of shutout ball, Kraig Sitton pitched six shutout innings, and James Russell pitched seven innings allowing just one run.
However, the Skeeters entire team is the Fort Bend Star Skeeter of the Week. They beat the team with the best record in the league 6 of 7 games to overtake them and win the division.
First Half Standings
Sugar Land Skeeters 39-21-0
Lancaster Barnstormers 35-24-3.5
York Revolution 31-29-8
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 25-34-13.5
Somerset Patriots 32-27-0
New Britain Bees 31-29-1.5
Long Island Ducks 29-31-3.5
Road Warriors 16-43-16