Ducks eye second straight title as ALCS starts on Wednesday

LI Ducks pinch runner P.J. Phillips is surrounded

LI Ducks pinch runner P.J. Phillips is surrounded by teammates after scoring the winning run on a wild pitch by Maryland pitcher Nick Sarianides in the bottom of the tenth. (Sept. 19, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

The road to successfully defending a championship has plenty of hurdles, twists and turns, but for the Ducks, traffic unexpectedly has cleared just a bit.

The Ducks' three-game sweep of Southern Maryland in the Liberty Division Championship Series came as little surprise after Southern Maryland struggled in the second half. Now, with the Ducks in the Atlantic League Championship Series for the third consecutive season and hoping to win back-to-back league titles, their next opponent might not provide as big a roadblock as expected, either.

Sugar Land won an Atlantic League-record 95 games in the regular season and beat the Ducks in 17 of 20 regular-season games -- but the Skeeters were upset by Somerset in the Freedom Division Championship Series in three games. So the Ducks will open a best-of-five series against Somerset on Wednesday at home.

"We're confident no matter who we play," starter Bob Zimmerman told LIducks.com after earning the win against Southern Maryland in Game 3 of the LDCS on Friday. "We've just got to go out there and do our jobs, and good things will happen."

But the Ducks know the Patriots won't be easy to beat. Somerset also broke the previous Atlantic League record of 88 victories in a season by winning 90. The Ducks went 8-12 against Somerset this year, winning two of three games on the road in the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth.

"I feel very good about our chances with Somerset," Ducks closer Leo Rosales told LIducks.com on Friday. "They're also a great team. They'll battle to the end . . . One through nine, they'll never give in. So we have to be prepared, stay aggressive and be ready to attack."

Before the Ducks won the Atlantic League championship last season, the previous two league champions each claimed the title in back-to-back years. Somerset won in 2008 and 2009 and York won in 2010 and 2011.

Ducks third baseman Bryant Nelson hopes to earn his third consecutive Atlantic League title, having won it with the Ducks last season and with York in 2011. Nelson is one of 12 Ducks who were a part of last season's Atlantic League championship team.

"It always helps to be the defending champs," Nelson said. "But going forward, it doesn't matter. We have to win three out of five no matter what."

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