TRENTON – A postseason that began earlier this week with championship aspirations came to a crash-and-burn just after 1:30 A.M. on Saturday morning as the Thunder were swept away in the divisional round of the Eastern League playoffs by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, losing the do-or-die matchup by a score of 5-1. It marks the third straight season that Trenton has watched their season end in a sweep.
In a strange game that was slated for a 7 P.M. first-pitch, a 3:58 rain-delay pushed the start of the game back to just a few strokes before 11.
“I took it as a challenge,” said Thunder infielder Gosuke Katoh, who drove in the lone run in the finale. “I feel like I’m never going to be playing baseball at two in the morning ever. I love challenges. It didn’t go our way, but it was fun.”
Trenton had won 11 of their final 13 regular season contests to overtake the Fisher Cats for the division crown, but New Hampshire’s potent offense proved too mighty for the Thunder, outscoring them 23-5 throughout the three-game slate.
Despite winning the regular season division crown, the Thunder were forced into a disadvantage by beginning the postseason on the road. The league format dictates a 2-3 format and before ever taking the field on their home turf, they had dug themselves a deep 0-2 hole.
New Hampshire second baseman Cavan Biggio had another big night in the series clincher, adding two more hits including a two-run single off of Thunder starter Nick Nelson in the third inning that gave New Hampshire a 3-0 advantage at the time. The Eastern League MVP knocked in seven runs in the series.
The 22-year old Nelson allowed four hits and issued four walks while striking out six over five innings – he allowed just the three runs surrendered in the third inning.
League batting champion Harold Ramirez along with Biggio chipped in a pair of seventh inning RBI singles off of Trenton reliever Matt Wivinis to seal their seat in the Eastern League Championship Series.
“They have got a really good team,” admitted Thunder manager Jay Bell. “It was a tough task – unfortunately, their pitchers did pretty well too. If you look at the series, they were in a position of power virtually the whole series. They were able to do some things offensively on the bases, and with their pitching staff, that we weren’t able to do.”
The story of the series was the inability for Trenton to capitalize when they had opportunities to score runs and put pressure on the staff of New Hampshire. Trenton was able to bang out 25 hits over the three games, but went 0-17 with runners in scoring position and left 23 men on base.
“We put a lot of pressure on their pitchers, but we couldn’t quite get that big hit,” said Bell. “It wasn’t a lack of preparation or desire, it was just the fact that their pitchers made some pitches when they needed to.”
We had a really good season,” Katoh said. “We had the best record in the Eastern League, but we just came up short. The playoffs are a totally different animal than the regular season. They played really good baseball, and it just went their way.
New Hampshire will now have a few days to rest as they await their opponent in the championship series. They will meet either Akron or Altoona, the last two league champions. Heading into action on Saturday night, Akron currently held a 2-1 advantage in the series.