By Joe Southern
The Sugar Land Skeeters clinched the second half Freedom Division title and a playoff sport with a dramatic 6-5 walkoff win over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs Friday night.
“It feels pretty good. It was a tense, hard-fought end of the season right there,” Manager Gary Gaetti said.” I’m just proud of my guys. This is the hardest part to get in but once you get in you can relax a little bit, but there’s still going to be a lot of baseball to play. I’m just happy that the guys, they just played hard the whole time. The feeling, it’s going to feel real good tomorrow, it’s going to be jacked up a little bit with the excitement. It’s great, I’m really happy for the fans, they showed up to the game and saw us win at home and it makes it all worth it.”
Just a few days earlier the Skeeters were in a 6-14 slump, having blown a three-game lead in the division to the York Revolution and nearly falling out of wild card contention to the streaking New Britain Bees. But a pair of wins by the Skeeters and losses by the Revs put Sugar Land back in the lead for good.
After opening the first game of a four-game series against the Blue Crabs with a 4-1 win Thursday night, it looked like the Skeeters might have to keep the Champaign on ice one more night on Friday as Southern Maryland took a 3-0 lead in the fourth. A solo homer from Wilfredo Rodriguez cut the deficit to 3-1 in the 5th. Rene Tosoni belted a solo homer and Lance Zawadzki added an RBI single in the 6th to tie the game 3-3.
The Blue Crabs pulled back ahead with single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Delwyn Young evened the score again with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. Skeeters closer Derrick Loop came on in the ninth, becoming the seventh Skeeters pitcher of the evening and eventually earning the win.
The Blue Crabs struck out Tosoni and then walked the based loaded. That brought Lance Zawadzki to the plate. He hit a bloop infield single that wobbled like a bunt. Hague raced for home, diving over catcher Gustavo Molina to tag the plate and cinch the win.
“Oh man this is great. It’s what it’s all about, down to the wire and find a way to win,” right fielder Jeremy Barfield said as the celebration poured across the field and fireworks lit up the night.” Skeeters baseball!”
“It feels great to be in the playoffs, especially with this team,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the year and at one point we didn’t know if we would make it. … We had a really good team, we lose some guys, some people getting hurt and stuff, now we get to the playoffs and we’re going to try and win it all for the City of Sugar Land.”
Travis Scott, who has been with the team since 2013, was elated to have the Skeeters return to the playoffs for the third time in the five-year history of the team.
“Oh gosh, you know what, this has been a long time coming… I couldn’t be happier for this city for this team. We worked out butts off to get here. I’m just happy for everyone. Everybody did their part and if we’re going to win a championship it’s going to take every single person in that dugout and clubhouse,” he said.
The Skeeters went on to end the regular season by sweeping the Blue Crabs with a 4-1 victory on Saturday and a 3-1 win on Sunday.
The Skeeters finished 39-31 in the second half (74-66 overall), three games ahead of the York Revolution. York was 76-64 overall and comes to Sugar Land Tuesday for the first two division playoff games. In the Liberty Division, the Long Island Ducks face the Somerset Patriots.
The first two games of the best-of-five Freedom Division Series at Constellation Field will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20, and Wednesday, Sept. 21. The Skeeters would then host Games 1 and 2 of the Atlantic League Championship Series on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and Wednesday, Sept. 28, if they advance from the Division Series. Game times for all potential games are 7:05 p.m.
PLAYOFF TICKET INFORMATION:
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling the TDECU Ticket Office at 281-240-4487, visiting the ticket office at Constellation Field or online at ticketreturn.com.