Thunder win Eastern League division title

Bichette goes 5-for-5 with two doubles, three RBIs in clincher

Dante Bichette helped Trenton lock up its first Eastern League division crown since 2012. (Kevin Pataky/

By Michael Avallone / | August 27, 2017 12:39 AM

Double-A Trenton's march toward a division title had taken on an air of inevitability. Having already clinched a second straight playoff berth on Aug. 19 and with an eight-game lead in the standings, securing the division was a foregone conclusion.

But that didn't stop Bobby Mitchell's squad from building some excitement along the way.

Dante Bichette recorded a career-high five hits and drove in three runs Saturday as Trenton erased an early four-run deficit and powered past Richmond, 14-5, at ARM & HAMMER Park.

 Video: Trenton's Brewer nails down the win and division

Bichette doubled twice and scored three times, while Jhalan Jackson homered in both of his at-bats during an eight-run eighth inning to help the Thunder wrap up their first Eastern League Eastern Division crown since 2012.

"It's funny because I found out that Binghamton had lost right before our game ended, so yeah, it was very gratifying," Mitchell said. "All of the hard work the players put in along with a ton of help from the staff here. I take [clinching] as a culmination of everything we've done all year that many people don't necessarily know about. I'm talking about all the stuff in the spring, working on fundamentals and getting ourselves ready.

Gameday box score

"To win the division was important, but making the playoffs is even more important. That's the stepping-stone to do what we're trying to do this season -- and any season, for that matter." 

Things didn't go Trenton's way early Saturday as the Flying Squirrels built a 4-0 lead. In the fourth, two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Bichette, who came through with a two-out, three-run double to right field. The 24-year-old scored the tying run on Francisco Diaz's single to center and Jeff Hendrix pushed across the go-ahead run with another base hit.

Video: Trenton's Bichette clears the bases with a double

"Bichette's hit couldn't have been any bigger for us," Trenton's skipper said. "We'd been struggling the last few days with guys on base. You need to be able to get those two-out RBI hits to win ballgames. That's something we hadn't been doing lately and it was a primary reason we weren't winning. It's certainly not easy to do, but it makes winning a lot simpler.

"But that hit by Dante was so huge. It put us back in the game and it really got us going. I'm a firm believer that hitting is contagious. We got two more right after his hit and then things started to steamroll."

Bichette doubled again leading off the sixth and scored on Yankees No. 9 prospect Nick Solak's double. Bichette rapped two more singles and scored in the eight-run eighth. He became the first Thunder player to register a five-hit game since Jose Pirela on Aug. 19, 2013.

MiLB include

The inning also was noteworthy because of Jackson's homers, which bookended the frame. The Florida Southern product became the first Trenton player to homer twice in an inning since Greg Blosser in 1995. 

"Those two homers by Jhalan were just crushed," Mitchell said. "He's one of the strongest hitters and has tremendous raw power. I'm really happy to see it from him. He's done well for us, but he really hadn't gotten the power going yet. Even though he hasn't played a whole lot for us, he's produced when he has."

With the playoffs in sight, Mitchell can focus again on capturing the championship that eluded his club last year, when Akron swept the Thunder in the best-of-5 Finals. 

"The playoffs are always fun," he said. "I try to stress to the players that the season is over and their stats don't mean anything now that they're in the playoffs. Part of the development for these guys is winning, along with everything else. When you step on the field, you have to believe you're going to win. If you're always losing, it's tough and wears on you. Establishing a winning attitude is important and we've done a good job of that here.

"I'm really looking forward to the playoffs. It gets intense, but that's how it should be." 

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Yankees No. 18 prospect Thairo Estrada had two hits, including a triple, and drove in three runs. 

Caleb Gindl went 3-for-5 with two triples and two RBIs for Richmond.

Other clinchings:

Midwest League

Quad Cities 1, Cedar Rapids 0

Cristian Javier recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts and gave up one hit over five innings to help the River Bandits clinch the second-half Western Division title. Wander Franco's third-inning single scored Abraham Toro-Hernandez with the game's only run. Gameday box score

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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