Midland, MI - On a warm Sunday afternoon at Dow Diamond, the LumberKings bats came out to play, but the Loons would have the final say. Great Lakes down 7-4 in going into the bottom of the sixth inning would score five to take a 9-7 lead and hold on for the 9-8 victory, sealing their first Midwest League Championship in their franchise's history. In turn, the game ending the magical season of the 2016 LumberKings.
The LumberKings after being held scoreless for 19 innings broke out the big bats in the second. Alex Jackson back on July 25th homered against Loons starter Yadier Alvarez, and put up a repeat performance to start the second. Jackson turned on an inside fastball from Alvarez and parked it way over the left field fence for his first home run of the playoffs, giving the LumberKings a 1-0 lead. Alvarez then retired Conner Hale and James Alfonso, but then walked Ricky Eusebio. Rayder Ascanio then followed with a single to left that moved Eusebio to second, bringing up Chris Mariscal. Mariscal drilled a ball to left center field that just got over the glove of left fielder Darien Tubbs, rolling to the wall and scoring both runners, giving the LumberKings a 3-0 lead.
However, that lead quickly evaporated in the bottom of the inning. Logan Landon started the inning with a single and then moved to second on a balk from Nick Neidert. DJ Peters was then hit by a pitch to put the first two on, but Zach McKinstry's bunt attempt went straight up and was caught by catcher James Alfonso. Jake Henson though doubled just out of the reach of Alex Jackson in right field, scoring Landon and moving Peters to third, making it a 3-1 Clinton lead. Matt Jones then took the first pitch he saw and poked it into right field for a hit, scoring both to tie the game at three.
Great Lakes would take their first lead in the fourth as Matt Jones with one out hit a one hop double into the left center field wall. Nick Neidert then struck out Darien Tubbs, but Saige Jenco singled up the middle, scoring Jones to give the Loons their first lead of the day at 4-3, ending the day for Neidert.
However, the LumberKings would come right back to tie the game in the top of the fifth. Already with one leadoff home run today, the LumberKings would add another thanks to Dalton Kelly, who went opposite field against Ivan Vieitez and had the ball just land over the wall. Kelly's first home run of the playoffs tied the game at four.
They wouldn't be done, as the sixth would be the inning Clinton would claim the lead back. Ricky Eusebio singled to start the inning, and Rayder Ascanio would sacrifice him to second. That brought up Chris Mariscal, who delivered another big blow, driving a ball over the right field wall for his second postseason home run, giving Clinton their second lead of the game at 6-4. Luis Liberato followed the bomb with a single, ending the day for Vieitez. Karch Kowalcyzk then gave up a bunt single to Dalton Kelly, and with two outs Alex Jackson walked to load the bases. Conner Hale came up but didn't need to swing the bat to bring home another run as a wild pitch from Kowalcyzk plated Liberato to make it a 7-4 game.
That was the score going into the bottom of the sixth as Matt Walker entered the ballgame. At that point, the strike zone got tight, as Walker issued free passes to Zach McKinstry and Jake Henson, both on four pitches. Matt Jones then blooped a single into shallow left, loading the bases with nobody out. The zone tightened again as Darien Tubbs drew a bases loaded walk to cut the LumberKings lead to two, ending the day for Walker. Joey Strain entered, and the zone remained tight as Strain waked Saige Jenco to force home another run, making it a 7-6 game. Brendon Davis then hit a sac fly to center that tied the game, and Strain came back to strike out Omar Estevez for the second out. Logan Landon though came through, smoking a double into the left field corner, scoring Tubbs and Jenco to give the Loons a 9-7 lead.
The LumberKings would have two great chances to tie the game back up, as in the top of the seventh they loaded the bases with one out against Victor Gonzalez thanks to two walks and a hit by pitch. Dean Kremer came in to face Luis Liberato, who hit a sacrifice fly to center, to cut the deficit to one, and then walked Dalton Kelly to reload the bases. Logan Taylor then flew out to end the inning.
With the score still 9-8 in the ninth, Ricky Eusebio blooped a ball down the left field line to start the inning against Dean Kremer and tried to take second, but shortstop Brendon Davis fired out Eusebio at second for the first out of the inning. Kremer then got the next two in order to end the game and the season.
The LumberKings finished their season with an 86-54 regular season record, and came two wins away from the Midwest League Championship. They will look to start the journey towards the 2017 Midwest League Championship when they open up at Kane County on April 6th, 2017.