The Great Lakes Loons were victorious in the opener of the (best of three) Midwest League eastern division championship series with a 4-1 victory over the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) at Dow Diamond tonight.
The Loons broke a 1-1 tie wide open in the bottom of the seventh inning, scoring three big runs. Logan Landon and Jake Henson led off the inning with back to back singles and Darien Tubbs loaded the bases with a walk.
The Loons' 'Mr. Clutch' Saige Jenco followed with a 2 rbi line-drive single to center field, scoring Landon and Henson, then Brendon Davis rounded out the scoring with an rbi single to score Tubbs.
A standout quarterback in High School, Jenco is a very smart baseball player as well and he's studied enough film on West Michigan pitcher Toller Boardman that it paid off at the most opportune time tonight.
After falling behind 0-2 in the count early, Jenco battled back to work the count to full and when Boardman called timeout to visit with his catcher, Jenco knew a curve ball was coming. That's some advanced hitting, even for single-A minor league baseball.
“I think I was down 0-2 maybe, to start the at bat, Jenco said. “I was trying to battle off his fastball, and luckily I got back to 3-2 and fouled a couple more back and he called time to talk to his catcher and I had a feeling a curve ball was coming, so I was sitting on that. I stayed back and was able to drive it up the middle.”
The chemistry on this Great Lakes roster is something special, and Jenco is thrilled at the possibility of celebrating the organization's first championship with his teammates and fans alike.
“We've got a bunch of good guys here, everybody pick's each other up,” Jenco said. “It's something you can't even dream of, really. You just come out here with your friends, who are your teammates, and now we're only one win away, and hopefully three more after that, then we can pop some champagne.”
Ivan Vieitez (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was lights-out -earning his first post-season win- in relief for the Loons, allowing just 2-hits while striking out 3 batters through three scoreless innings.
Vieitez, a Hialeah, FL native who played college baseball at division II Lenoir-Rhyne University, had a respectable 4-4 regular season record with a 3.86 ERA since joining the Loons in early May.
However, over the last few weeks he's been on a whole different level, allowing just 2-runs on 5-hits while striking out 14-batters in his last six appearances through 12.1 innings. Loons' skipper Gil Velazquez is happy to see his young pitcher out there gaining confidence and competing at a high level.
“He's had a power arm since he got here,” Velazquez said of his reliever. “You know, just winning ball games, it helps these guys. It's not just them going out there to throw pitches (like in practice) they're going out there with a purpose to win ball games, they're trying to get their job done for their team, and when you play team baseball it helps.”
Loons starter Caleb Ferguson (1.80 ERA) gave up the lone run on 6 hits while striking out 6 batters through five innings.
West Michigan threatened in the top of the fourth with back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. However, the Loons' defense came up big when Ferguson forced Whitecaps' DH Josh Lester to hit a ground ball which Omar Estevez quickly gathered up to turn the 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Shea Spitzbarth (s, 1) struck out the side in the ninth inning, getting Cam Gibson -son of former Tiger and Dodger great Kirk Gibson, who was in attendance- for the final out of the game, earning Spitzbarth his first save of the post-season.
The Loons will now travel to Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids with a chance to clinch the eastern division championship tomorrow night, and become the first team in Great Lakes Loons history to advance to the MWL championship series. Game three (if necessary) is scheduled for Tue evening in Grand Rapids as well.