PORTLAND, Maine -- The Trenton Thunder are going to the Eastern League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.
Jeffrey Marquez combined with two relievers on a five-hitter Saturday as the Thunder blanked the defending champion Portland Sea Dogs, 4-0, in Game 4 of the Northern Division Finals.
Marquez, a former first-round draft pick, yielded four hits and a walk while fanning three over seven innings. He threw 62 of 94 pitches for strikes.
"I feel great," Marquez said. "Words can't really describe it. This is probably one of the top memories I'll have."
"What's there to say, other than fantastic?" Trenton manager Tony Franklin said of Marquez's performance. "He was extremely good with his ability to go out there and pitch. It takes a special kind of guy and a special kind of performance to close out a series and close out a game like that, knowing what's on the line."
It was Marquez's 16th win of the season, tying the franchise record set by Carl Pavano in 1996.
Teammates and coaches have come to expect this kind of performance from the Las Vegas native. He led the league with 15 wins, tied for third with two complete games, ranked second with 155 1/3 innings pitched and 10th with a 3.65 ERA.
"Jeff did a great job when we needed him the most," said catcher P.J. Pilittere, who contributed two hits and two RBIs. "He didn't do anything different than he's been doing all season. He's just been throwing strikes and giving us a chance to win."
The 23-year-old right-hander had great command of his fastball and sinker while mixing in a changeup to keep the Sea Dogs off-balance. Marquez allowed just one runner to reach third base as Portland went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
"Being such a young guy and so young in his career, I feel great for him," said Franklin. "What that [performance] tells me is that he's capable of doing that not only here but at the Major League level at some future date. That's a special win for him. I hope he remembers it for years to come."
Pilittere and Matt Carson provided more offense than Marquez needed. The Thunder got on the board in the second, when Pilittere followed a walk to Carson and a single by Noah Hall with a two-run double.
Trenton padded its lead an inning later. Reegie Corona singled, Austin Jackson doubled and, after Portland starter Chris Smith struck out Colin Curtis and intentionally walked Cody Ehlers to load the bases, Carson hit a bizarre ground-rule double. He crushed the ball to the mini Green Monster, where it took a funny bounce off a sign and landed in the bleachers in foul territory.
Eric Wordekemper and Justin Pope each pitched a scoreless inning to secure the shutout -- and Trenton's spot in the Eastern League championship for the first time in five tries.
"We were aware [of the history], but we tried to just stay within ourselves and play like we've been playing all season," said Pilittere, "just go out there, throw strikes, play great defense and get some timely hits."
The Thunder will take that recipe to the final round, where they'll face the Akron Aeros.
"I think, and I gotta believe, that these guys feel there's something more left to go," said Franklin. "And I think they're willing to go that distance to get it done. ... This is a piece on a way to the prize, and I think that what these guys are really focused on is winning a championship.
"Winning a division and a playoff series is very good, but I believe they know where they want to go and how they need to get there."
NOTES: Trenton is 63-13 when scoring at least four runs. ... Seven Thunder batters had at least one hit. ... Trenton is 22-2 on Saturdays. It's 47-21 on weekends [Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays]. ... Portland was without starters Jeff Corsaletti and Aaron Bates in Game 4. Corsaletti, the Sea Dogs' leader in runs scored, hits and stolen bases, left the club due to a family emergency. Bates, who started the first three games in the series, was suffering from flu-like symptoms. ... Marquez picked off Jeff Natale straying too far from first base after Natale led off the game with a single. It was Marquez's fifth pickoff of the season. ... The attendance at Hadlock Field was 4,201.