Road Trip Could Be Decisive - Sussex County Miners
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Road Trip Could Be Decisive

Road Trip Could Be Decisive

It’s all come down to this: The Miners are in Quebec tonight to start a six-game road trip that could make or break their chance for a postseason spot in the Frontier League playoffs. 

     And, they’ll take the field tonight after winning eight of their last nine games to break out of a three-team tie, now perched alone in second place in the East Division standings.

     Last weekend, they were tied with Tri-City and Ottawa, and New York was just a game behind – four teams scrambling for two playoff spots. Now, this weekend, the Miners begin their final road trip of the year as the No. 2 team who would host the No. 3 team in the league’s postseason wild-card playoff game, with the winner moving on to face No. 1 Quebec in a best-of-3 series for the division pennant.

     Can the Miners catch Quebec and take over first place? Thanks to recent heroics, that’s still possible, though it would take both a winning streak over the final nine games on the schedule and some luck, as well, as Sussex would need either New Jersey or Ottawa to take a few games from Quebec in the last two series of the year, after this Miners-Quebec series is done.

     But, could the Miners still miss out on a playoff spot? Yes, that’s still possible, too, if the team suddenly goes cold in Quebec or in Troy, NY, next week against Tri-City or back home at Skylands Stadium next weekend to end the regular season against New Jersey.

    First place? Still possible. Second or third place for wild-card playoff spots? Still possible. Out of the playoffs entirely? Still possible. These last nine games will tell all the answers.

     The Miners have played Quebec six times this season and Sussex County has won both of the three-game series by 2-1 margins – both times here in Augusta. This time, they’ll be playing in Canada’s Stade Canac, a 4,300-seat ballpark that opened in 1939 less than two miles from the St. Lawrence River.

     The Miners’ two aces and league leaders were on the mound in all four victories over Quebec, all in June. John Baker tossed a nine-inning complete game in one of them, with 14 strikeouts and one walk. He’s currently 10-2, second in the league with a 2.63 ERA and fourth in the league with 111 Ks (and just 16 walks). Dwayne Marshall started the other two Miners victories, including seven innings and one earned run in a 10-inning, 2-1 decision. Marshall is now 11-3 – the league leader in wins and No. 3 in the league with an ERA of 2.71.

     Pitching, including reliever Robert Klinchock (3.34 ERA, 32 appearances, nine saves) has been this team’s strong point all year. That and stealing bases. Sussex now has 196 steals, approaching the league record of 204.

     Hitting had been iffy, but has improved greatly late in the season. Where the team had been near the bottom of the league earlier, they’ve moved up to now rank 10th with a team batting average of .264. Newcomers Yanio Perez and Juan Silverio have stepped in to revive the lineup, Perez currently batting .397 in  22 games while Silverio is .374 in 30 games. Another newcomer, Alex Toral, has slowly but surely raised his average to .288 in 26 games (17 starts) with good power for nine home runs and 26 RBI.

HAIL the GREYS

     It’s true that the Empire State Greys have a grotesque record of 6-81, but they are actually a much-improved team and are now capable of beating a team like the New Jersey Jackals, which they did last week, or at least putting up a stiff challenge against a playoff-contending team, which they did against the Miners earlier this week.

     In Wednesday’s game, the Miners and Greys were tied at 3-3 until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Toral blasted a three-run homer for a 6-3 victory. Then, on Thursday, the Greys battled Marshall and three relievers, and the Miners managed just three singles all night long for a tense 1-0 victory – the Miners’ only 1-0 game of the year.

     Now, the Miners will be rooting for the Greys to come up with a win (or two) when they Greys face Ottawa, then New York, then Tri City in the final nine games of the season.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.