When Connecticut scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth against Lowell, it appeared the Tigers might have scored a playoff spot and the Vermont Lake Monsters were destined for disappointment. Instead, the opposite turned out to be true.
Vermont defeated the Tri-City ValleyCats, 11-7, on Sunday, then listened over the stadium's PA system as Connecticut dropped a dramatic 16-inning game to the Spinners, 6-5. The two outcomes allowed the Lake Monsters to clinch the second-half title in the New York-Penn League's Stedler Division and will head to the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
"It just feels great," Vermont manager Rick Magnante said. "It was a long season. We've basically been a .500 club from the get-go. But as the old adage goes, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. We finished strong, on a roll here, and now we're playing for the marbles."
After Tri-City scored five runs in the second, Vermont responded by putting up a five-spot in the bottom of the frame. The Lake Monsters scored all five runs with two outs as Jacob Tanis came through with a two-RBI single and Sean Jamieson followed with a three-run homer.
"It was huge," Magnante said. "I would say in the last seven to 10 days, we've been able to muster that kind of resiliency and bounce back. I can't say enough for the character of this club."
With the game tied through six innings, 7-7, the Vermont offense again put up some much-needed crooked numbers. Taking advantage of five hits and two fielding errors by the ValleyCats, the Lake Monsters scored four total runs in the seventh and eighth to go ahead for good. B.A. Vollmuth -- an 11th-rounder in the June Draft who was promoted to Vermont on Thursday -- had the go-ahead hit, roping a two-run triple with two outs in the seventh.
"He's been here for four games, and if it wasn't for him, along with the rest of the team, we probably wouldn't be where we are today," Magnante said.
With Vermont's triumph, Connecticut had to defeat Lowell in order to take the division. Down in the eighth, 5-0, the Tigers scored one in the eighth and then four in the ninth to send the game to extra innings.
The Lake Monsters had a scare when it was announced that the Tigers had won in the bottom of the 10th on a bases-loaded single by Dean Green. That run was taken back, however, when it was ruled that the ball hit lead runner Eugenio Suarez, resulting in an out. Aaron Westlake then popped up to end the inning and keep the game going.
"The air came out of the balloon, then we got the clarification there had been an overruled play and [the Tigers] didn't score the winning run," Magnante said. "Then we tuned in and we prayed."
The game stayed tied until the top of the 16th, when the Spinners' Keury De La Cruz reached and got to second on a fielding error by left fielder Tyler Collins. De La Cruz advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Garcia, then scored with two outs when pitcher Nicholas Avila threw a wild pitch.
The Tigers could not work up another rally in the bottom of the frame as only Zachary Maggard reached when he was hit by a pitch. Lowell outfielder Roberto Ramos (1-0) earned the win after he pitched the final two innings without allowing a hit.
"It was nerve-racking, especially when they brought the quasi-position player in for Lowell. And this guy got them out," Magnante said. "We want to call Lowell and thank them."
Magnante has a lot for respect with his team's first-round opponent, the Auburn Doubledays. But he acknowledges the unpredictable nature of the postseason.
"It's a 2-out-of-3 format and anything can happen," Magnante said. "We're playing a very good team in Auburn. They can hit and pitch and are solid. We know we have to give our best effort out there, and we're looking forward to the challenge."