It was as close as they’ve come to winning it all since 2013, but the Ducks still ended this season in much the same way they ended the previous four — without a championship. They fell to the Sugar Land Skeeters, 4-1, in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Atlantic League Championship Series on Sunday night in front of 3,541 fans at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
The Ducks had climbed back from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series but couldn’t solve Sugar Land starter and series MVP James Russell.
“It’s a feeling in your stomach because you got so close, bounced back, felt really good about your chances [and] are playing at home where the crowd was outstanding,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “It definitely stings. There’s no doubt about it.”
Russell pitched a complete game, allowing one run, seven hits and no walks with five strikeouts. With the tying run in the on-deck circle, Ducks rightfielder Miles Williams grounded out to end the game.
“He’s a good pitcher,” the Ducks’ Lew Ford said. “Throws a lot of strikes and changes speeds and locations. He’s not necessarily an overpowering guy, but he’s just a good pitcher.”
It was the Ducks’ third consecutive loss in the Atlantic League Championship Series and the Skeeters’ second championship in three years.
“It was a different feeling today,” Ford said. “It was a tougher loss in a Game 5 [than] getting swept. It was in our reach today and they just played better.”
Jake Fisher was not his usual dominant self but kept the Ducks in the game. He allowed three runs, nine hits and two walks in five innings, striking out six.
“He battled,” Baez said. “I noticed he was getting hit hard, but he was minimizing damage. That’s what he does. If you have taxing innings, it wears on you.”
Denis Phipps homered off Fisher with two outs in the second. Sugar Land made it 2-0 in the third when Albert Cordero’s single to leftfield drove in Juan Silverio. The Skeeters scored in the fifth when Silverio led off with a double and scored on Matt Chavez’s single.
Ducks shortstop Dan Lyons’ two-out solo home run in the fifth cut the Skeeters’ lead to 3-1.
Javier Betancourt led off the sixth with a double off Ducks reliever Matt Larkins and Barrett Barnes singled him home.
“At the end of the season, there’s only one happy team,” Baez said. “Right now, it’s a sick feeling in your stomach, but I’m proud of the guys bouncing back, fighting back and playing the game until the end. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other team. You hate to, but in this regard, Russell pitched outstanding and we just couldn’t get anything going.”