SOUTH BEND, IN - First place in the Midwest League's Eastern Division will be determined in the final game of the first half on Sunday in South Bend.
The dramatic conclusion to the divisional race has been set up by the West Michigan Whitecaps' 4-1 loss to the South Bend Silver Hawks on Saturday at Four Winds Field.
West Michigan (40-29) and South Bend (40-28) have both already clinched playoff berths, joining Kane County and Burlington from the Western Division as the Midwest League's four first-half playoff qualifiers. After splitting the first two games of their three-game series, the Whitecaps and Silver Hawks will battle for first place in the rubber match of the three-game set on Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, the Whitecaps fell behind early and struggled to break through offensively, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position from the sixth inning on.
The Silver Hawks grabbed three early runs in the second and third innings. Zach Esquerra struck out swinging to lead off the second, but reached base on a wild pitch and later scored on a sacrifice fly. In the third, singles by Andrew Velazquez and Breland Almadova put runners at the corners with nobody out. An errant throw on a stolen base and a sacrifice fly brought both runners home for a 3-0 advantage.
That was enough to hang Jon Maciel (3-3) with a tough-luck loss. The right-hander worked seven solid innings and was charged with three runs - two earned - on six hits. He struck out two without issuing a walk and induced a pair of groundball double plays.
But West Michigan could not break through against South Bend's Hector Hernandez (4-2).
The lefty benefitted from a series of excellent defensive plays early and went on to allow just one run on five hits over 6.1 innings. He did not allow a baserunner until the fourth and carried a one-hit shutout into the sixth before the Whitecaps finally cracked the scoreboard with three singles.
The third single was a run-scoring knock by Javier Betancourt that cut the deficit to 3-1, but West Michigan was unable to capitalize further. The next batter bounced into an inning-ending double play and the Whitecaps went on to strand a runner in scoring position in each of their last four innings.
South Bend added an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth to extend the lead to 4-1 and Will Locante (2) earned the save with a scoreless ninth inning.
The Whitecaps close out the first half of the season against the South Bend Silver Hawks on Sunday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. at Four Winds Field. LHP Kevin Ziomek (4-5, 2.37) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Blayne Weller (3-3, 4.33) of South Bend. Following the road trip, the Whitecaps will host the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Classic at Fifth Third Ballpark on Tuesday, June 17. Gates open at 4:00 p.m. with pre-game festivities before the 7:00 p.m. game. Season, group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps' front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.
Click here to view the box score.