The Ducks’ unlikely prospect of winning the first-half championship officially ended Monday night with a 10-4 loss to the Sugar Land Skeeters in Texas.
The Ducks will play out the half, which ends Sunday night, and begin the chase for the Liberty Division’s second-half title Monday against the Lancaster Barnstormers.
“I think the pitching was good, but the hitting wasn’t consistent,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “We struggled with men on base, in scoring position, and were last in the league in hitting [as of Thursday]. If it wasn’t for our pitching, who knows where we’d be?”
The Ducks put themselves behind the eight ball with a poor first week and a half of the season, losing six of their first 10 games. In a playoff chase that ends after the first 70 games, that’s not as small of a sample size as it may seem.
“You’re behind right out of the gate,” Baez said. “That’s why my message early on was that the games in late April and early May were very important. We lost a couple of tough ones and that put us behind Somerset and Bridgeport. We’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”
What followed was a spring of fits and starts. They won four games in a row only twice and lost five straight (and seven out of eight) in early May.
After cutting the Patriots’ division lead to four games on June 11, the Ducks lost four of their next six, effectively stalling any further climb toward the top.
But the season in hardly over — not by a long shot. The Ducks, who went all the way to the Atlantic League Championship Series last season, still have two potential avenues to make a return to the playoffs. They can either win the second half, which begins Monday, or earn a wild-card berth. The wild card would take effect if the first-half winner from either division also wins the second half title. The wild card rewards the best overall record of a non-division winner. The Ducks sat four games back of the Bridgeport Bluefish in that race entering play Thursday.
One of the offensive bright spots of the first half was Angelo Songco. The outfielder, who spent the last three seasons as an Independent leaguer in the American Association, had 14 home runs entering play Thursday. That total ranked him, along with two others with 14 homers, behind only Lancaster’s K.C Hobson (21) for the league lead.
Songco hit 13 home runs in 75 games last season and 17 home runs in 96 games two seasons ago, both with the St. Paul Saints.
“I’ve always had some power, but I don’t like to list myself as a ‘power hitter’,” Songco said. “I like to hit gap-to-gap and try to hit guys in. If they happen to go over the fence, they happen to go over the fence.”
With four days left in the first half, he was the only Duck in the top five of a major offensive category (AVG., HR, RBIs). Songco, who was hitting .271 entering Thursday’s action, also had 36 RBIs and 35 runs in 60 games (221 at-bats).
“I’ve been sticking with my approach, getting a good pitch to hit and putting good swings on balls,” Songco said. “Any mistake a pitcher makes, hopefully I don’t miss it.”
For a team that struggled offensively for most of the first half, Songco was a welcome revelation — and something they hope continues deep into the summer.
“He swings the ball really well,” Baez said. “He’s an aggressive hitter. He’s proved that he hits home runs in other leagues, so why not here? He has a good swing and good idea at the plate. He’s looking good.”
On deck: Southern Maryland at Ducks, 6:35 p.m. Sunday.