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Thunder repeat in Eastern League

Finish off Aeros again, this time before home crowd
September 14, 2008
TRENTON, N.J. -- The Trenton Thunder didn't have the luxury of celebrating in front of their home fans last year when they won their first Eastern League Championship, clinching the title at a subdued Canal Park in Akron.

They made up for it Sunday with another Game 4 clinching victory, this one coming in front of 3,117 adoring fans at Waterfront Park with a 5-1 victory over the same Akron Aeros.

In winning the best-of-5 Championship Series, 3-1, Trenton became the first Eastern League team to secure back-to-back titles since the Harrisburg Senators won four consecutive pennants from 1996-99.

"[Championships] are all special in their own way," Thunder manager Tony Franklin said. "After last year being such a magical season, you think it can't get any better. Then you surpass what we did last year by winning another championship in consecutive years. That's just fantastic."

As soon as playoff MVP Austin Jackson secured the final out on a fly ball to center field, the celebration was on. Thunder players and coaches streamed out of the dugout and bullpen onto the field, meeting near second base in a big, jumping group of joy. Before heading to the locker room to continue the celebration, Franklin was doused with two buckets of ice water.

"I'm glad they poured water on me out there because I was not breathing at the time," said Franklin, who has won both of the franchise's championships in two seasons as skipper. "It kind of revived me."

Meanwhile, many of the dejected Aeros players stayed in their dugout with arms hanging over the fence, forcing themselves to take in at least a few minutes of the celebration -- perhaps to use as motivation for next season.

The game was close until the Thunder scored four times in the sixth inning on only two hits. The big inning was aided by a pair of walks, a wild pitch and two costly errors by shortstop Josh Rodriguez as the visitors' miscues allowed Trenton to bat around.

Chris Malec and Kevin Russo reached on errors, Colin Curtis and P.J. Piliterre hit back-to-back singles, while Francisco Cervelli drew a free pass and Edwar Gonzalez was intentionally walked. The Aeros struggled to find somebody, anybody, in the bullpen who could end the inning.

"We gave up a couple knocks and then a couple of plays hurt us there in the sixth inning," Akron manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "That's what did us in."

It was a good sign for the Thunder when they got on the board first, using three consecutive singles to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third.

In each of the previous three games, the team that scored first went on to win. Trenton continued the pattern on a muggy evening when Reegie Corona sparked a two-out rally with a base hit just under Rodriguez's glove. Ramiro Pena followed with a bloop hit to shallow right field.

And who else but Jackson drove in the game's first run with a liner to right. Bronson Sardinha, who spent parts of four seasons with Trenton, dived but could not come up with it as the ball dribbled off his outstretched glove while Corona scampered around to score.

Matt Whitney dubbed Jackson "Superman" on Saturday after the athletic center fielder homered and robbed the visitors of a pair of potential roundtrippers in Trenton's Game 3 win.

Whitney was able to exact a small measure of revenge when his sixth-inning solo shot tied it, 1-1. The long ball didn't quite make up for Jackson robbing him of a three-run blast that would have tied Saturday's game.

"We'd been struggling to get our offense going the last two games, so that was a very big run," Sarbaugh said. "We just couldn't get anything going after that."

Trenton starter Jeff Marquez (1-0) earned the win after limiting the Aeros to one run on five hits while striking out five in six innings.

"I wouldn't say I had the best stuff," he said. "But I got through it and we battled all night. [Jason] Jones came in and did an awesome job, our offense came through and I had a good defense behind me, too."

As it had throughout the playoffs, the Thunder bullpen -- consisting of starter Jason Jones -- worked three scoreless innings to close out the series.

"I was just happy to get some innings in the playoffs this time around," said Jones, who went 13-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 25 regular-season starts. "It's been a good year and it was a great ending to my year."

Aeros starter Frank Herrmann (1-1) took the loss, allowing two runs -- one earned -- on four hits over 5 1/3 innings. Reid Santos and Neil Wagner combined to surrender the other three runs in the sixth. Tony Sipp delivered 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Despite winning league titles in 2003 and 2005, losing in the championship series has become a bit routine for the Indians' Double-A affiliate.

The Aeros have won the last four Southern Division pennants and have qualified for the playoffs in six of the last seven years but have come up short in the championship series the past three.

Stephanie Storm is a contributor to