The Lowell Spinners clinched the New York-Penn League Stedler Division crown on Saturday the way they had played much of the season -- by coming from behind.
Mitch Dening raced home on a wild pitch to cap a three-run ninth inning as the Spinners rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Oneonta Tigers and earned the first playoff berth in the team's 13-year history.
"These kids had a lot of grit and determination this year," said Lowell manager Gary DiSarcina. "Our entire pitching staff kept us afloat until our young hitters adjusted to seeing breaking balls and sliders."
With the Spinners (37-29) trailing, 4-2, Derrik Gibson drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth, stole second and scored on Casey Kelly's single to center. Kelly promptly scored the tying run on a double by Dening, who stole third. After Peter Hissey was intentionally walked, reliever Tyler Stohr uncorked a wild pitch to produce the winning run.
"We had a lot of offensive pains early in the year," said DiSarcina, who's in his second year as Spinners manager. "Our kids were really struggling, but over the course of the year, we gradually adjusted as an offensive unit.
"We worked with them to get them mentally stronger and tougher."
Among the players DiSarcina pointed to was third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who was batting .150 after the first month of the season but has boosted that mark to .237.
"He's a prime example of making adjustments to breaking balls and sliders in the dirt," the manager said.
Dening also made solid progress, DiSarcina said. After a slow start, the right fielder has hit safely in his last six games to get his average up to .315.
Kelly, Dening and Ryan Lavarnway each collected two hits in the clincher, Lowell's 12th win in 16 games.
Armando Zerpa (1-0) allowed one hit in 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for the victory. Spinners starter Hunter Strickland was charged with three unearned runs on seven hits, fanning seven without issuing a walk, over 5 2/3 frames.
Stohr (0-1) retired one batter and surrendered three runs on two hits and two walks for Oneonta (28-37).
Asked about next week's playoffs, DiSarcina said he'd been too busy focusing on the division title to think about anything else.
"I haven't been looking ahead," the former Major League infielder said. "Right now, I'm looking forward to getting our guys some rest."