MARION, Ill. — It was only fitting after the season the Rascals have had that their playoff aspirations come down to the final day of the regular season. The River City Rascals (49-47) beat the Southern Illinois Miners (63-33) 5-1 on Sunday to clinch the final Wild Card of the Frontier League Playoffs. The Rascals started the day a game ahead of the Lake Erie Crushers but with the tiebreaker, if it was needed, not in their favor. However, Dan Ludwig made that a moot point, as he threw 7.1 innings of one-run ball to lead River City into the playoffs against his old team.
Ludwig has been brilliant for River City since coming over from the Miners in a trade on August 5. The lefty is 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA in a River City uniform. Ludwig’s lone run allowed came off a solo shot by Alex De Leon to lead off the fourth inning. Ludwig gave way to closer Zac Treece in a nonsave but still high-pressure situation with the playoff hopes of the franchise on his shoulders. Treece worked out of a one-out jam in the eighth by striking out two Miners and then got three flyouts to erase a harmless single in the ninth to clinch the wild card. In a stroke of serendipity, Willi Martin, the player sent in the trade for Ludwig flew out to center to end it.
The Crushers did not let the Rascals off the hook and made that Zac Treece not-a-save save vital. In a game that started an hour before first pitch in Marion because of the time difference, Lake Erie racked up a 10-2 victory over the Washington Wild Things to move a half-game back of the Rascals and forced them to out their hopes in a Miners comeback to save their season.
Along with stellar pitching, the Rascals usual suspects showed up big in big spots to prevent that comeback. Josh Silver, the Rascals leader in batting average at .352, hit his ninth home run of the year, a two-run shot. Johnny Morales, Mike Jurgella, Kyle Gaedele and Josh Ludy all had two-hit games.
The Miners were in an odd spot because as the top seed and playing one of the potential wild-card teams, Southern Illinois could have essentially picked to play the Rascals in the divisional round by giving them the series and resting their players. From a travel perspective, I’m sure the Miners would rather make the short trek from Marion to CarShield Field than go all the way up to Lake Erie. The amazing thing is that they set up their rotation and still almost kept the Rascals out of the playoffs. The only pitcher to throw more than two innings over the three-day series was Brooks Trujillo, who threw 5.2 innings without giving up a run in a 7-4 win on Saturday in which the Miners never trailed. The question now remains will the Miners regret not stepping on the Rascals’ throats when they had the chance. If the team that went on an 11-game winning streak to even get back in the conversation for a wild-card spot shows up, the Miners might be kicking themselves come next week. If it is the team that sputtered to the line in the final two series of the regular season, the safe play of resting guys looks brilliant.
The divisional round of the Frontier League Playoffs begins on Tuesday at CarShield Field. The first two games of the five-game series will be played in O’Fallon. The series shifts to Marion for as many of the three remaining games that are necessary.
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