In a showcase of unprecedented success, the Ducks find themselves, once again, three victories away from an Atlantic League championship.
And this year, they didn’t break much of a sweat getting there.
The Ducks topped the High Point Rockers, 3-2, in Game 3 of the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series in front of 5,031 fans at Bethpage Ballpark Friday night, sweeping the series and advancing to their fourth consecutive Atlantic League Championship Series.
The Ducks are the first team in the 22-year history of the Atlantic League to advance to four straight championship series. It will be the Ducks' seventh championship appearance in the past nine years.
“It’s a class organization, there’s no doubt. We go after the best players that are available," manager Wally Backman said of the streak. "We lost 15 guys [to outside organizations], nine starters and five closers, but we were able to recover with guys stepping in and the starting pitching for us has really never faltered.”
But the championship series, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday night at Bethpage Ballpark against the winner of the York Revolution / Sugar Land Skeeters series, is a hill that the Ducks haven’t been able to scale recently. They have lost the last three and are looking for their first championship since 2013 and fourth in franchise history.
After allowing a leadoff home run in the ninth inning to Quincy Latimore that cut the Ducks' lead to 3-2, closer Cody Mincey retired the next three batters to notch the save.
Seth Simmons continued the trend of outstanding Ducks pitching performances. Following the lead of starters Darin Downs and Vin Mazzaro in the first two games, Simmons was virtually untouchable. The righthander allowed one run and two hits in seven innings. He struck out nine and walked two.
"Tonight, I had pretty good command of my fastball. I just tried to mix and match.," Simmons said. "Last time I faced them, I really went at them heavy with sliders. We talked about it, that if we attacked them with fastballs, it would open up everything later. It’s kind of what we did, we just mixed and matched as we went along.”
The Ducks took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Hector Sanchez’s single to centerfield that drove in Lew Ford and L.J Mazzilli. The Rockers got to Simmons in the fifth. Michael Russell led off with a triple and scored on a groundout by Tyler Ladendorf to cut the lead to 2-1. Simmons got out of a big jam in the sixth, striking out Russell with runners on second and third to end the inning.
“He got a triple earlier in the game with a fastball away, so I went in twice, locked him up both times, and then tried to expand with a slider, then went curveball down in the dirt and knew he was going to be in swing mode after he took that slider," Simmons said
The Ducks added a run in the eighth on Steve Lombardozzi’s sacrifice fly.
“We’re the best team in this league," Simmons said. "That's what it boils down to.”
Viola Ejected: East Meadow native, former Met,and current Rockers pitching coach Frank Viola was ejected in the second for, apparently, arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Derek Moccia. Balls and strikes in the Atlantic League are called with radar assistance, with calls being relayed to the plate umpire through an earpiece.