No one can accuse the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of making it easy on themselves.
Over the weekend, Wisconsin won two straight games in walk-off fashion to clinch a playoff spot. On Tuesday, the Timber Rattlers pulled ahead in the 10th inning and beat Clinton, 3-1, to clinch the Midwest League West Division first-half title.
"We clinched a playoff spot a couple days ago and that was a team goal of ours from the beginning," Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said. "But one of the things I did notice is they weren't really excited about just getting into the playoffs, they wanted to win the division."
Coming off a three-game sweep of second-place Beloit, the Timber Rattlers carried a five-game cushion into Tuesday's series opener. Nick Ramirez homered in the second inning before Max Walla and Brandon Macias came through with RBIs in the 10th.
Jacob Barnes (3-2) struck out nine and gave up just one hit over five innings of shutout relief to get the win. He followed starter Will West, who limited the LumberKings to one run on six hits and a walk while fanning three over five frames.
Erickson believes it was his team's adherence to solid fundamental play that set it apart from its first-half pursuers.
"We've done a nice job of taking care of the baseball. I think we lead the league [with the fewest errors]," he said. "We've done a nice job limiting big innings. The bats started rolling a little bit when the weather warmed up, we've continued our solid pitching and we don't beat ourselves. It's been a pretty consistent ride."
Third baseman Greg Hopkins has been one of the team's offensive leaders, ranking fourth in the league with a .313 average. The 23-year-old also leads the team with eight homers and a .489 slugging percentage. First baseman Jason Rogers has a team-best 42 RBIs in the middle of the lineup and carries a .393 on-base percentage.
Drew Gagnon has anchored the rotation, going 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 57 strikeouts over 71 innings. Seth Harvey ranks second in the league with 13 saves and is backed up in the bullpen by Tommy Toledo (6-0, 1.23 ERA), Andy Moye (3-0, 1.45) and Mark Williams (4-4, 2.26).
Erickson singled out shortstop Yadiel Rivera as the backbone of his defense. The Brewers' No. 12 prospect also is third on the team with 30 RBIs.
The division title was Wisconsin's first since 2005.
Lynchburg 8, Carolina 1
The Hillcats cruised past the Mudcats to complete a doubleheader sweep and wrap up the Northern Division first-half title. Braves No. 9 prospect J.R. Graham (8-1) allowed one run on three hits with six strikeouts over five innings for the win. Tommy La Stella went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Adam Milligan homered for Lynchburg. Box score