It wasn’t a win, but it felt like one.
The Ducks fell 8-2 to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in front of a crowd of 5,491 at Bethpage Ballpark Saturday, but still clinched the Liberty Division first-half championship after the Somerset Patriots fell to the High Point Rockers, 3-2.
Somerset allowed two home runs in the bottom of the ninth to ensure the Ducks’ championship.
“I’m excited for the players that have been here the whole year, even the additions we’ve had, they’ve all contributed,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said. “We didn’t win all the games, but we won enough to get ourselves in a position to win the first half and that’s all we were asking for.”
It’s the sixth first half championship for the Ducks, who came into the day 1 ½ games ahead of the Patriots in the standings, and the first since 2016. It also secures a fifth consecutive berth to the Atlantic League playoffs.
“It’s a hard-fought win for the first half,” said centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. “Three good teams battling out, with High Point and Somerset, so it’s nice to come out on top.”
Former Met T.J. Rivera made his Ducks debut in the loss and was an offensive bright spot, going 3-for-4. Nieuwenhuis added two hits and two walks and the pair both connected for RBIs in the third inning as the Ducks (42-26) tied the score at 2.
The Blue Crabs answered quickly, jumping back out to a 5-2 lead after Charlie Valerio’s solo homer in the fourth and Dean Green’s two-run double. Edwin Garcia and Joe Benson added RBIs in the Blue Crabs’ three-run eighth to grab a six-run cushion.
“I think Southern Maryland was excited,” Backman said. “They did not want to see us celebrate out on the field.”
It wasn’t the perfect way to clinch a championship, but now, the Ducks turn to their attention to what comes next. The squad will wrap up its series with the Blue Crabs Sunday at 5:05 p.m. before breaking for the All-Star Game on Wednesday.
“It’s a long second half, very few off days,” Backman said. “The key is to be strong in the end and that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do.”
Notable: There was a tense moment in the first inning, when a fly ball sailed into the third-base photo area, hitting a female Ducks employee. The woman, whose name was not released, was immediately escorted off the field. The Ducks did not comment.