Because of Tuesday's victory, the South Bend Silver Hawks will make the playoffs for the sixth straight season and enter the postseason as Eastern Division Champions for the second time in four seasons.
The Silver Hawks lost their first nine games of the season and struggled to a 19-30 start before catching fire at the end of May. All season long, manager Mark Haley has been preaching keeping an even keel to a team that has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
"In this game, you're never as bad as you think you are, and you're never as good as you think you are," cautioned Haley. "What you do in April isn't nearly as important as what you do in August. That's what's fun about Low-A ball, and why I love it so much. Because you watch them go from this infantile stage and they blossom into this wonderful flower."
In addition to improvements from players that have been with the squad all year, the Silver Hawks received a boost from several players from this year's draft. Daniel Schlereth, the organization's first-round selection, recorded his first professional victory in this clinching win.
Fort Wayne starter Jeremy Hefner had n-hit the Hawks through 6 innings, then was relieved by Colt Hynes. Suddenly, the Silver Hawk offense came alive, rapping out seven hits and plating six runs against Hynes and two other Wizard relievers. Jo Jo Batten, who played with the Hawks ever so briefly in 2006, was the star of the offense, going 2-for-4 with three RBI.
Pitching-wise, starter Thomas Layne mostly pitched out of trouble for four innings, though his leadoff walk to Justin Baum in the second did cross home plate. The bullpen took over from there, with Bryan Henry, Daniel Schlereth, and Jeff Dietz combining to fan 10 Wizards in five innings and allow just two base runners, neither of whom scored.
Henry extended his personal scoreless innings streak to 14.1, or 15.1 counting the final inning of his August 3rd spot start. Jeff Dietz has now gone 6.0 innings without allowing a hit and 9.2 without allowing an earned run. These are just two examples among many of a bullpen doing a magnificent job late in the season. South Bend's starters were workhorses earlier in the season, keeping the bullpen arms fresh and rested.
"Pitching's been the key to our turnaround," explained Haley. "[The starters] have gone deep into games so much that the bullpen wasn't getting enough work," he quipped.
Haley then instituted a strict five-inning limit to all of his starters, and the bullpen has responded by shutting down the opposition for the final four-plus frames in most games. To become Midwest League champions as they were back in 2005, however, they will need all facets of the team clicking, not just the bullpen.
"We've got a great coaching staff, and we work hard on preparing them everyday," Haley said. "That's part of development. When it comes down to August and September, you've got to reach down and find something, because that's how you win championships. And they will."
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