October 25, 2014

Elyria
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Frontier League playoffs: Crushers veteran Andrew Davis knows what it takes to win championships

The last time Andrew Davis played in a home playoff game, he delivered one of the biggest home runs — in length and in meaning — in Lake Erie Crushers history.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the 2009 Frontier League Championship Series against the River City Rascals, Davis drove a Stephen Flake pitch to dead center field that sailed over the black “batter’s eye” screen just beyond the 400-foot sign for the game-winning grand slam.

The Crushers went on to win 4-1, capping a rally from a 2-0 series deficit. They then went on to win Game 5 on the road, 13-10, to claim the league championship.

Five years later, Davis is the only member left from that 2009 championship team and the 2011 team that used a red-hot second half to clinch a playoff berth on the last day of the regular season.

However, he was forced to miss the division series that year due to a staph infection in his foot and, without him, the Crushers were swept by Joliet.

Unlike those two seasons, the Crushers get to start their postseason journey in the friendly confines of All Pro Freight Stadium. The No. 2 overall seed in the Frontier League, they’ll host third-seeded Traverse City — a team they just took two of three from at home this week — in the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series.
Game 1 is tonight at 7:05, while Game 2 is Sunday at 5:05 p.m.

Davis didn’t have the dominating stats he had during those previous playoff seasons. However, the 29-year-old veteran was still a big reason why this year’s team went 56-40 and won their first East Division crown.

“You get a guy with his experience, an older guy who’s been in big games and has at least two championships, it’s a tremendous asset to have,” Crushers first-year manager Jeff Isom said. “In 2008, when I was in the (Class AA) South Atlantic League (with the West Virginia Power) and he was with the Augusta GreenJackets, we went to the championship and played against them and they beat us.

“He’s played in big games. He’s a big-game player and I’m expecting him to have a big playoff performance. A guy like that, with the leadership and experience that he has, the guys are going to look up to that. You want guys that have championships and playoff experience with you when you go through this journey. It’s a different ballgame in the postseason.”

Davis’ GreenJackets swept Isom’s Power 3-0 in the South Atlantic League championship that year. He brought that title experience with him to the expansion Crushers, where he put together an MVP-type season (.327, 15 home runs, 68 RBIs) and helped the team go 57-38 en route to the championship.

In 2011, Davis had the best season of his career, batting .339 with 12 home runs and 87 RBIs. The average and RBI numbers are still career-bests for him, and his red-hot second half carried the Crushers to a 51-45 season and an improbable postseason berth.

This season, Davis set a career-high with 17 home runs (leading the team) and added a team-best 66 RBIs. But he slipped to a .251 average and endured a 2-for-29 slump before he singled in the last game of the regular season Thursday. He ended the year going 3-for-32 in his final eight games and hasn’t had an RBI since Aug. 25.

“I’ve been struggling,” Davis said. “I’ve been coming early and working in the cage to get ready for the playoffs. I had some good at-bats (Thursday) and I think I’m ready to go. If not, it’s a team game anyway.”

Davis said this year’s club compares favorably to the previous Crushers playoff clubs he was part of.

“The biggest similarity is with the defense,” he said. “We probably have the best defense in the league. I don’t know where we stand in turning double plays in the league this year, but I know we’re up there in the top two or three at least. I know in 2009, we led the league in turning double plays, and this year’s team is right up there with those numbers.

“Obviously, hitting is always a big part — getting hits at the right time. When we were on that 11-game winning streak, everyone on the team was hitting and the defense was going as strong as it does every day. That’s basically what we need to do if we want to bring home another championship.”

Davis said there aren’t any glaring differences between this year’s Crushers and those other two teams.

“I can’t really pinpoint one certain thing,” he said. “Just like those other two teams, we played great defense and hit the ball at the right times. I don’t really see much of a difference. Maybe we’re just stronger one through nine now than we were back then, but it’s kind of hard to tell.”

After coming one game short of the postseason last year and not being able to play in the postseason two years ago, Davis is thrilled to have the chance to play September baseball again.

“It’s what we play for every year, to getthe chance to make the playoffs and to win a championship,” Davis said. “We were able to clinch a few days ago, which was nice. Now, I’m just ready to get the playoffs started and hopefully we end up in the championship with a chance to win.

“(A championship) means everything right now. That’s why we’re playing. Our whole team is here to win a championship. Now we have a chance and, hopefully, it works out for us.”

Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or dangilles73@gmail.com.

TONIGHT

WHO: Lake Erie vs. Traverse City
WHAT: Game 1, best-of-five Frontier League playoff series
TIME: 7:05
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
PITCHERS: Dave Middendorf (12-7, 2.60 ERA) vs. Scott Dunn (15-1, 2.61)