CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was down to the wire in the 2016 playoff race.
Having won five-straight and nine of their last 11, the Clearwater Threshers needed a sweep of the Dunedin Blue Jays to clinch the FSL North and earn a playoff bid for the second-straight year.
A win on Saturday would force a final-day decision, with a doubleheader in Dunedin that would determine the division champion. Clearwater fought its way back from an early 4-1 deficit, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs in the eighth inning.
The crowd of 5,437 at Bright House Field erupted when Jiandido Tromp crushed a deep drive into the night that elevated the Threshers to a 5-4 lead.
Despite another dramatic comeback, a soft double in the ninth and a sacrifice fly in the 11th would mean the end of the Threshers playoff hopes.
The Dunedin Blue Jays clinched the division, but the team that led the Florida State League in wins, attendance, and All-Stars was a team that went down fighting - one that was, statistically, even better than the one that won both halves of the FSL North in 2015.
With final a record of 82-54, Clearwater posted the best overall mark in the FSL for the second-consecutive year, topping their league-best 79 wins from the previous season.
Their 43 second-half wins was the second-highest for Clearwater since the team became known as the Threshers in 2004, falling just short of their 44-26 second-half record set in 2007, the year the Threshers won the Florida State League Championship.
2007 had also been the last time the Threshers hurled a no-hitter, when Drew Carpenter pitched a seven-inning perfect game at Fort Myers.
This time it was Drew Anderson, a 22-year-old righty who led his team to near-perfection in his Threshers debut on July 11th. Anderson hurled four hitless innings against St. Lucie before lightning forced a 44-minute delay in the middle of the fourth inning.
Will Morris picked up right where Anderson left off, spinning four more no-hit frames before Victor Arano closed it out in the ninth, getting John Mora to fly out to Carlos Tocci in center for the final out, and Clearwater's first no-hitter in nearly a decade.
Pitching was key in that first half, when Tyler Viza, Thomas Eshelman, and Elniery Garcia led the Threshers to a dominant opening month on the mound.
Clearwater went 15-8 in April thanks to a staff which posted a 2.45 ERA, led by that trio of Viza (1.80), Garcia (1.82), and Eshelman (1.80).
Viza, a 21-year-old right-hander, was promoted to Reading on June 10 after going 6-2 with a 2.54 ERA in nine starts with Clearwater. Eshleman joined him 11 days later, after starting the FSL All-Star game and pitching to a 3.34 ERA for the Threshers.
Garcia remained in Clearwater through the regular season, finishing fourth in the league in ERA (2.68), tied for second in wins (12), third in WHIP (1.10), and tied for first in opponent batting average (.219). The 21-year-old lefty joined the Fightin Phils for the Eastern League playoffs, where he delivered six innings of two-run ball to earn the win in an elimination game.
Eshelman and Garcia were among a league-most nine Threshers named to the FSL North All-Star team, along with Alexis Rivero, Chace Numata, Cord Sandberg, Zach Green, Scott Kingery, Carlos Tocci, and Mitch Walding.
Kingery and Tocci both entered the year as top-30 Phillies prospects, and both lived up to the hype on their way to receiving FSL midseason and post-season All-Star nods.
A second-round draft pick in 2015, Kingery lit up the months of June and July with a .361 average in the second half before earning a promotion to Reading on July 25. Tocci's 31 extra-base hits and 50 RBIs were both career-highs, while the 21-year-old finished tenth in the league with a .284 average.
Numata made the All-Star team despite not starting the majority of Clearwater's games in the first half, and by season's end found himself in serious contention for the league's batting crown.
The switch-hitting catcher turned heads in the Phillies organization by batting .308 while throwing out 39.8% of opposing base stealers. Numata would have finished second in the FSL in batting average had he amassed enough plate appearances to qualify, ultimately falling just nine short. His 16-game hit streak from August 1st to the 19th was the second-longest of the season in the Florida State League.
First baseman Kyle Martin made his mark on both ends of the ball, launching 19 home runs to tie the Threshers single-season record set by Art Charles in 2014. The 23-year-old finished fourth in the league in homers and second in the FSL with 82 RBIs.
Defensively, Martin broke the league record by going 95 games before committing his first error of the season on August 25, easily surpassing the previous mark of 81. Martin's .998 fielding percentage also tied the highest on record for FSL first basemen.
Across the diamond, third baseman Mitch Walding emerged as the year's breakout player after batting .280 with a career-high ten home runs for Clearwater. Walding won the 2016 Florida State League Home Run Derby before batting .311 in second-half play, earning his way up to Double-A on August 4th.
The Threshers led the league in both midseason and post-season All-Stars, as Kingery, Tocci, Walding, and Martin were all honored as the year's best along with manager Greg Legg, who was voted one of the FSL's top coaches of the year.
From Viza's career-high 11 strikeout performance against Lakeland on May 1st, to Garcia's own 11 K's in an elimination game on September 2nd, and from Derek Campbell's four-homer series vs. St. Lucie in July to Tromp's dramatic, go-ahead blast at Daytona on August 28th, the 2016 season was flooded with memorable moments from a team that topped the league in both record and attendance.
Fans enjoyed the debut of Free-Shirt Fridays and Taps and Tacos Thursdays, and packed the house with 9,012 on hand for a July 3rd fireworks extravaganza. They mingled with their favorite Star Wars characters and Super Heroes, and came out in support of breast cancer research as part of the Threshers annual Pitch for Pink Night.
A total of 181,594 filled the stands of Bright House Field throughout the season - the second-highest ever for the Clearwater Threshers. It was the sixth consecutive year in which Clearwater has paced the league in attendance.
A brand new season kicks off in April, 2017.