The Class A Great Lakes Loons streaked into the Midwest League playoffs and didn't stop until they were hoisting their first championship banner.
Dodgers outfield prospect Logan Landon laced a go-ahead two-run double in the sixth inning Sunday as the Loons edged the Clinton LumberKings, 9-8, to win Game 4 of their best-of-5 series at Dow Diamond for the circuit crown.
Four-and-a-half games out of the playoffs on Aug. 14, Great Lakes won 15 of its final 22 games to qualify on the penultimate day of the regular season. The Loons won two decisive Game 3's in their first two series against Bowling Green and West Michigan to advance to the Finals.
Great Lakes skipper Gil Velazquez credited his players with building the late-season momentum, though an assist could be given to the team's rallying cry -- "Chicken and shrimp." Clubhouse manager Johnny Dukes began loudly shouting the phrase during games in early April as a way to distract opponents, and the players embraced it as the season wore on.
"He had been saying it the whole season, but when we started winning, he started saying it even more. The guys started saying it and it just grew from there," Velazquez said with a laugh. "It was funny, but at the same time, we just started riding it."
The Loons needed their good-luck charm during Sunday's seesaw contest, which had three ties and three lead changes over the first six innings.
"They walked guys, then we walked guys," Velazquez said. "They pitched well, then we pitched well. It was just an incredible game."
Great Lakes took the lead for good with a five-run frame in the bottom of the sixth. The Loons scored three times on two bases-loaded walks and a sacrifice fly off LumberKings relievers Matt Walker (0-1) and Joey Strain before Landon laced a two-run double to left field with two outs.
"These guys just never quit," Velazquez said. "The last stretch of the season there, these guys played the same way. Every time we were down, it didn't feel like we were out. It was always someone different. That's what made this team so special. It wasn't always one guy that carried the team. It was someone different every night."
Right-hander Karch Kowalczyk (1-0) picked up the victory after allowing a hit and a walk while fanning two over two-thirds of an inning. Righty Dean Kremer held Clinton scoreless over the final 2 2/3 frames -- surrendering a hit and a walk while fanning one -- to preserve the victory for his first save of the playoffs.
First baseman Matt Jones finished 4-for-4 at the plate with two doubles and a pair of RBIs.
Once Chris Mariscal's popup settled into shortstop Brendon Davis' glove for the game's final out, Velazquez said the feeling in the dugout was a special one.
"There were a lot of emotions once we made that last catch for the last out," the first-year manager said. "The emotions were just unreal. To see these guys celebrate -- not only the players, but the front office was out there celebrating with us -- it's a great feeling for all of us."