AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers got to the Frontier League Championship Series with the best defense in the league and a propensity for getting timely hits.
Those assets turned into liabilities for the Crushers during the three-game series against the Schaumburg Boomers, especially Tuesday night in Game 3.
The Crushers defense committed three errors — for a total of nine in the three-game sweep — and they squandered numerous chances to break the game open, especially when they had four straight hits in the third inning but only came up with a run.
The result was a bitter end to what had been a fantastic renaissance for the Crushers and first-year manager Jeff Isom. Two runs in the top of the seventh by the Boomers gave the second-year franchise its first Frontier League championship with a 3-1 victory in front of 1,611 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“We had opportunities early on, late, all of the above,” Isom said. “It was a frustrating game and a frustrating series for us. This series was not indicative of how we really are. Schaumburg came out and made plays when they had to. They executed when they had to, and that’s what we didn’t accomplish.
“We had our chances, not just tonight, but in all three games, and we just couldn’t take advantage.”
The Crushers had three runners thrown out at third base — two during the third inning — which loomed large in the outcome.
Max Casper led off the third with a single, followed by an infield single by Emmanuel Quiles. Casper sprinted to third when he saw third base uncovered, but he couldn’t get to the bag in time and was thrown out for the first out.
Craig Hertler followed with a single to left, but Quiles was cut down trying to advance to third base for the second out of the inning.
Seth Granger came through with the fourth single of the inning. This time, Hertler was able to score to give the Crushers a 1-0 lead.
“This series started off rough and it ended rough,” Isom said. “It’s tough to get anything going when you run into three outs at third base. I think the guys were trying to be aggressive and wanting to start something. When you’re down 2-0 and you need a win to simply stay alive, some guys tend to press and try to do too much. I think that was case of that. We weren’t as patient as we normally are.”
The Crushers had the best fielding percentage in the Frontier League during the regular season, but not so much during the championship series. The Crushers committed three errors in each of the first two road losses, but the biggest of the nine in the series came in the eighth Tuesday, helping Schaumburg put together the game-winning rally.
With the game tied 1-1, Jordan Wellander (0-1) relieved Matt Rein and promptly loaded the bases on a double by Justin Vazquez, a walk to Mike Valadez and a single by Alexi Colon.
Jordan Dean followed with a grounder that hit off Wellander and ricocheted to Casper at second. Colon was forced at second, but Vazquez scored to give the Boomers a 2-1 lead.
Gerard Hall followed with a routine pop fly to left. Granger appeared to take his eye off the ball as he prepared to gun Valadez out at the plate, and it popped out of his glove for an error. Valadez was able to cruise home with the insurance run.
“We’ve been strong defensively all season long,” Isom said. “It didn’t help that we go five games in that Traverse City series and our pitching wasn’t where (Schaumburg’s) was. They were able to throw their top three at us and we had to go with the bottom of our rotation. Even with that, we had opportunities to win all three of these
ballgames. We were on the defensive side instead of being the aggressors, and I think
that hurt us.”
The Crushers threatened in the bottom of the ninth as Anderson Hidalgo and Andrew Davis led off with back-to-back singles off Boomers closer Dexter Price (third save).
But Russell Moldenhauer grounded into a double play to short on the first pitch, and Juan Sanchez grounded out to first on his first pitch to touch off the Schaumburg celebration.
“We knew from Day 1 that we had a good ballclub and that we had the guys in the clubhouse that would get the job done,” said outfielder Daniel Bowman, who went 1-for-4 and led everyone with a .516 average during the FLCS. “We had some ups and downs in the first half of the season, but after the All-Star break, things started to click a bit more. We played well down the stretch to get in.
“We faced some adversity all year, and we did a pretty good job of coming through when the adversity had set in. Unfortunately, we couldn’t overcome it in the championship.”
Rein took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and only allowed three baserunners through 5⅔ innings. But he gave up a single to Sean Mahley, hit Steve McQuail with a pitch and allowed an RBI single by Brian McConkey to tie the game at 1 in the sixth.
While Isom was frustrated with the performance, he was very proud of his team for winning their first-ever East Division crown and advancing to the FLCS.
“I had a conversation with the guys in the locker room … and I told them the things we did this season were pretty amazing,” he said. “Compared to where we were at the All-Star break to where we are now, to just be in this championship series, that’s a great accomplishment.
“We didn’t make a whole lot of (roster) moves this season. We thought we had the right personnel from the start and we proved that we did.”
Outfielder Daniel Bowman, who led the Crushers with a .309 average, 25 stolen bases and 73 runs scored, had his contract purchased by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Bowman is the first Crushers position player to be purchased by a major league franchise in its five-year history. Three pitchers — Matt Rein, Ben Klafczynski and Ruben Flores — have been bought by MLB clubs.
* Isom reached the Frontier League Championship Series one other time during his coaching career. His Washington Wild Things lost to the Richmond Roosters, three games to one, in 2002.
* Schaumburg has been living a charmed life during its postseason run. Including Tuesday, the Boomers won six straight postseason games — three of which had come in their last at-bat, and the other three have been won in the seventh inning or later.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.