Ducks manager Wally Backman constantly lauded his team’s lack of ‘quit’ this season. So, after losing the pivotal third game of the best-of-five Atlantic League Championship Series Friday night in Sugar Land, Texas, he called a team meeting to reinforce the stakes. They were down 2-1 in the series and could no longer lose in 2019 if they wanted to return home champions.
“After Friday night, we knew that we had to win and that’s kind of what the meeting was about,” said Ducks designated hitter and hitting coach Lew Ford shortly after getting off the team bus Monday afternoon in Central Islip. “We felt like we were the better team. We’ve proven it all season long and we just needed to go out and do it on the field.”
They did just that.
Ford and the Ducks defeated the Sugar Land Skeeters in the final two games of the series this weekend to capture the Atlantic League title for the fourth time in franchise history and first time since 2013. They will hold an open-to-the-public celebration Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Duck Club restaurant and bar at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
“There’s nothing like coming out on top and being a champion,” starting pitcher Vin Mazzaro said. “It’s well deserved, from the coaching staff, to the front office, to all the players. It was an exciting year.”
Mazzaro won two games in the championship series, including an 8-4 victory in the winner-take-all Game 5 Sunday night. Mazzaro allowed two runs (one earned) and six hits in 6 1/3 innings in the clincher. Mazzaro also won Game 1, but admittedly did not have his best stuff in the Ducks’ 7-5 win. He said he felt much better in Game 5.
“I was just trying to stay focused,” Mazzaro said. “It’s all about getting outs. You get this far, you just want to leave it all out there . . . We all just went out there and battled. It was a great victory and a great season with a great group of guys.”
Mazzaro had to sit back on Saturday night and watch as starter Brandon Beachy allowed two runs in six innings to keep the Ducks in position to eventually win Game 4 in 10 innings, 3-2.
“Our backs were against the wall and Beachy went out there and did a great job,” Mazzaro said. “He threw the ball great and we put up runs and played good defense. Our mindset was to take it pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning and just tried to pick each other up and kept the train rolling.”
2019 was, without question, the best season in the Ducks’ 20-year history. They finished the regular season 86-54, their best record ever, and won both the first and second half Liberty Division Championship for the first time since 2011.
The championship was extra special for Ford, who experienced the heartbreak of losing the last three championships, including dropping a winner-take-all Game 5 in Central Islip last season.
“We’ve had good teams those other years too, but it just feels good,” Ford said. “I think the guys just had the confidence we were going to win from the first inning yesterday and I don’t know that we had those feelings any of those other years. We knew we were not going to lose.”