The Great Lakes Loons' (0-2) unexpected playoff run ended with a blown 1-run lead in extra innings after the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) tied the game (1-1) with a run in the top of the ninth, then added another run in the tenth for a 2-1 victory and a 2-game series sweep in the first round of the 2018 Midwest League Eastern Division playoff's at Dow Diamond in Midland, MI Thursday night.
With a team that spent the majority of the year fighting its way out of the MWL cellar, Loons head coach John Shoemaker was proud of his team for turning things around in the month of August to make the playoffs, while the classy Dodgers “captain” also congratulated the West Michigan coaches and players on advancing.
“Gotta give our guys credit, they persevered all season,” Shoemaker said. “Congratulations to Lance (Parrish); Mariano (Duncan); and (Whitecaps assistant) John Vander Wal and their staff for moving on to the next round.”
After scoring the game-tying run to force extra innings in the top of the ninth, Whitecaps shortstop Luke Sherley singled to drive in West Michigan third baseman Colby Bortles (who had reached on a single) for a 2-1 West Michigan lead in the top half of the tenth inning, while Loons second baseman Deacon Liput managed to get into scoring position with a 2-out double in the bottom half of the inning; however, the game would come to an unfortunate end when Great Lakes shortstop Jacob Amaya hit a grounder up the middle that almost made it through, but Sherley made a great play fielding the ball in the hole at shortstop, before spinning and making a perfect throw to get Amaya out at first to end the game.
Great Lakes was just one strike away from victory with 2-outs and a 2-2 count on Whitecaps second baseman John Valente in the top of the ninth when Valente roped a single, moving Sherley (who had reached on a walk) over to second base, before West Michigan CF Reece Hampton (facing a 1-2 count) scored Sherley with an RBI-single to tie the game at 1-run apiece, forcing extra innings.
The Loons had jumped out to an early lead in the third when DH Eric Peterson reached on a 1-out single and moved to third on another single by Liput, before West Michigan starter Wilkel Hernandez was charged with a balk, allowing Peterson to score from third for a 1-0 Great Lakes lead in the bottom of the third inning.
West Michigan threatened to score in the top of the fifth when Sherley had reached on a walk and moved to second on an infield ground-out, before looking certain to score on a 2-out line drive to right-center field off the bat of Valente; however, Loons CF Chris 'Big Play' Roller chased down the would-be RBI and completely laid out, making a spectacular diving catch to end the inning, along with the Whitecaps scoring attempt.
“The way I see it, if the ball's in the air then I always have a shot at it,” Roller said. “I saw it, I had a little feeling. I was kind of playing in a little bit, but I saw it off the bat and I had a pretty good read off the bat and I knew I had a chance to get it, like any ball in the air, I feel like I can get to it.”
Roller, who's had quite a knack for the heroics since joining the Loons from the rookie level Ogden Raptors on July 23, of this year, winning games with walk off hits on 3-separate occasions during a 17-day span between Aug. 5, and Aug. 22, of this year; while also saving a potential game-tying run with a laser-guided throw from center field for the final out of a game, preserving a 3-2 Great Lakes win over the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds) on Aug. 13, during that same stretch.
Loons starter John Rooney (still on a pitch count from the Dodgers) looked great in the piggy-back start, allowing just 1-walk, while striking out 3-batters through 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the Loons.
Despite being on a tight pitch count since joining the Loons back in early August, Rooney, a 2018 third round pick of the Dodgers out of Hofstra University, was a big part of the Loons' late-season success, and he's very thankful for his time in here Midland.
“We fought hard, Rooney said. “My experience here was awesome, there's a bunch of great characters here and I had a blast being here with the Loons.”
Loons reliever Jaciel Alvino replaced Rooney, allowing 1-hit, with 1-strike out, before getting out of the third inning, while Bryan Warzek and Stephen Kolek combined to allow 5-hits and 4-walks, with 6-strikeouts throughout the next 5-innings.
Great Lakes late inning reliever Darien Nunez (0-1) was charged with the loss after giving up 1-earned run on 4-hits and 1-walk, while striking out 3-batters through 1 2/3 innings, before closer Austin Drury allowed a hit and a walk to finish the final 1/3 of an inning.
The Loons players will now head out to their respective home towns for a short reunion with family and friends, before getting right back to work, preparing for off-season training with the Dodgers, while the Whitecaps move on to take on the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Houston Astros) who swept the Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays) in the other eastern division series.
Video highlights of West Michigan Whitecaps vs Great Lakes Loons MWL Eastern Div playoff game on Thur Sep. 6, 2018 at Dow Diamond: