Ducks catcher Hector Sanchez puts the tag on the Blue...

Ducks catcher Hector Sanchez puts the tag on the Blue Crabs' Joe DeLuca for the out at home plate in Game 1 of the Atlantic League Northern Championship Series on Monday in Central Islip. Credit: George A Faella

Three weeks before Halloween, the Ducks are experiencing the perils of a hauntingly short series. It could turn their ballpark into a ghost town quicker than they’d hoped. The Ducks, who had the best record in the Atlantic League, are one loss away from elimination after a 3-2 loss to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Game 1 of the best-of-three North Division Championship Series Monday night at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip.

The Ducks now must win two games in Southern Maryland — scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday night — to keep their season alive. But there is reason for hope. At 30-28, the Ducks were the best road team in the league this season. They were 6-6 in Southern Maryland.

"I’m still very confident in our team," manager Wally Backman said. "We pitched well tonight. We didn’t swing the bats as well I was hoping for, but I know we’re going to swing the bats. I’ve seen them play all year long. I’ve seen them come back time after time. They made a big, hard push tonight trying to make a comeback. I know they’re out there trying to win."

The Ducks put the winning run on second base with two outs in the ninth, but former Met Ty Kelly grounded out to second to end the game.

Ducks first baseman Chris Shaw went 2-for-4 including a home run and two runs scored.

Ducks starter Darin Downs allowed three runs and six hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked one. Blue Crabs starter Kyle Murphy, who entered the game with a 9.60 ERA in three starts, allowed two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings. Murphy struck out one and walked three.

"Baseball is a game where you know that the next game’s always coming and you have to be ready to go," Shaw said. "They played really well tonight. They executed when they needed to. Their pitcher threw the ball really well, but we have all the faith in the world in ourselves. But, we know that we’re going to bounce back tomorrow night."

After cruising through the first two innings, Downs allowed back-to-back singles to open the third inning before an RBI double from Michael Baca, the ninth hitter in the lineup. The damage would have been worse if not for an athletic play from Ducks catcher Hector Sanchez to tag out Joe DeLuca at the plate on the same play. Baca later scored on an bunt single from Rubi Silva that gave the Blue Crabs a 2-0 lead.

Shaw’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the third cut the lead to 2-1.

Southern Maryland added a run in the fifth. The Ducks responded in the bottom half of the inning when Vladimir Frias’ RBI single drove in Shaw to cut the Blue Crabs' lead to 3-2. Shaw had doubled to lead off the inning.

"I personally love it," Shaw said of playing in a must-win game. "I love playing for something. I love feeling like there’s something on the line every time you go out there. Tomorrow night is exactly what I want. It’s a chance to really go out and prove yourself and really show your worth."

The Ducks are hosting a Game 2 watch party for the first 100 people to arrive at the Ducks Club at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip Tuesday night. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and first pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

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