As game 162’s are finishing up around the MLB today, the independent leagues have all finished their seasons as well.
Let’s take a look at every champion crowned this year in indy ball…
Atlantic League – The Sugar Land Skeeters
(Central Islip, N.Y., Sept. 30, 2016) – The Sugar Land Skeeters topped the Long Island Ducks 5-3 after a three-run rally in the seventh to take their first ever Atlantic League Championship title. Sean Gallagher managed seven innings with two earned runs and six strikeouts, while Derrick Loop earned his 33rd save of the season. Juan Martinez was named the 2016 MVP of the Skeeters.
The Ducks would strike early, with Fehlandt Lentini stealing home and scoring from third base with Delta Cleary Jr. at bat. However, the Skeeters would respond in the top of the fourth with a double to left field from Lance Zawadzki, bringing Jeremy Barfield and Travis Scott across the plate to give the Skeeters a 2-1 lead going into the fifth.
The Ducks would then tie things up in the bottom of the fifth after a double into center field would bring Lentini in from second to score. Cody Puckett would then single to third base, but a throwing error from third baseman Juan Martinez would allow Puckett to advance to second and Lew Ford to score, giving the Ducks a 3-2 lead going into the sixth.
The Skeeters would continue to push, however, with a three-run rally in the seventh beginning with Martinez’s single to center field allowing Wilfredo Rodriguez to plate a run. Josh Prince’s single to center field would bring the Skeeters further ahead, plating Jeff Dominguez and Martinez. The Skeeters would go into the bottom of the seventh with a 5-3 lead over the Ducks.
The Skeeters would successfully hold the Ducks to three runs, ultimately giving them a 5-3 victory and their first ever Atlantic League Championship title.
American Association – Winnipeg Goldeyes
The Winnipeg Goldeyes are the 2016 American Association champions as they rolled past Wichita in game five, 11-4. Winnipeg pounded out 17 hits in the contest with five batters collecting multi-hit games. Goldeyes CF Reggie Abercrombie had a sensational night going 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs and seven RBI. Winnipeg LF Willie Cabreraadded four hits and three runs scored while DH Adam Heisler chipped in with a pair of doubles in a 4-for-6 night. Goldeyes starting pitcher Kevin McGovern threw six strong innings in notching the victory. McGovern gave up two earned runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. For Winnipeg, this is their second league title with the first one coming in 2012.
Can-Am – Ottawa Champions
( September 17 Playoff Recap) Ottawa 3, Rockland 1 – Game 5 (Ottawa wins the championship, 3-2)
The Ottawa Champions are the 2016 Can-Am League champions as they defeated Rockland in game five, 3-1. Ottawa starting pitcher Austin Chrismon turned in a sensational performance in leading the Champions to the title. Chrismon tossed a complete game allowing only one earned run on six hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. The righty threw 123 pitches in the contest with 86 of them being for strikes. Offensively for the Champions, DH Kenny Bryant led the way going 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI. Ottawa SS Daniel Bick had a pair of hits in four at-bats while RF Adron Chambers and CF Sebastien Boucher each had a hit and scored a run. For the Boulders in the losing effort, C Marcus Nidiffer and LF Devin Harris both went 3-for-4.
Frontier League – Evansville Otters
The Evansville Otters used pitching and defense to win Game Five, 1-0, clinching their second Frontier League Championship in team history on Monday night. Hunter Ackerman got the start for Evansville, and he was superb. Ackerman carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, but gave up a triple to Kyle Gaedele with one out in the inning. Ackerman tossed seven and two-thirds scoreless innings, ending the night with the victory.
The only offense needed in the game came off the bat of Rolando Gomez in the bottom of the third inning, as he drove in Christopher Riopedre with a single to center field, giving the Otters the only run of the game. That lone run ended up being enough as the Otters pitching staff combined for a one-hit, shutout of the Rascals in the decisive Game Five at Bosse Field.
The game was low scoring, but there was plenty of drama. After Ackerman gave up the one out triple to Gaedele, he faced his first real adversity of the night in that seventh inning. With the tying run at third base and one out, Ackerman blew a fastball by Jason Merjano to get a much-needed strikeout. Ackerman then got some help from his shortstop for the final out in the inning, as Riopedre made a sliding stop deep in the hole on the left side of the infield, and delivered a strike to first in time to get the third out, preventing the run from scoring.
Clint Freeman led off the eighth inning for River City with a deep fly ball to center field. This time it was Chris Sweeney who made the play, tracking down the fly ball as he crashed into the wall, holding on for the first out of the inning. Ackerman then faced a pinch hitter in Braxton Martinez, and got him to groundout for the second out of the inning. That ended Ackerman’s night as he exited with two outs in the eighth inning and the Otters turned it over to the bullpen.
Ken Frosch was the first pitcher to emerge from the bullpen, but he walked the only batter he faced to put the tying run on base. Evansville then made a quick change as the Otters brought in Trevor Walch to face the right handed hitting Johnny Morales. Walch also walked the first batter he faced bringing up the red-hot, Josh Ludy with two runners on base and two out in the inning. Walch got Ludy to fly out to right field, ending the inning and the scoring threat.
With Evansville three outs away from their second Frontier League Championship, the Otters turned it over to their closer, Randy McCurry, for the top of the ninth inning. McCurry led the league in saves in the regular season with 23, and he picked up his third save of the postseason on Monday night. McCurry cruised through the ninth inning. He got the leadoff batter to ground out to Josh Allen, struck out the second batter, and finally got the final batter to ground out to Nik Balog at first base to end the game.
With the 1-0 victory in Game Five, the Evansville Otters won the Frontier League Championship Series 3-2 over the River City Rascals. The championship is the team’s second title in team history, with the other title coming in 2006. River City fell in the finals for the third consecutive season.
Hunter Ackerman picked up the win in the game, and was also named Most Valuable Player of the Frontier League Championship Series. Randy McCurry was credited with his third save of the playoffs and 26th overall in 2016.
United Shore League – Utica Unicorns
By Adam Rickert
Utica Unicorns 5 AT Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers 0
UTICA — The usual suspects came through once again for the Utica Unicorns as their stars led them to a USPBL Championship victory on Sunday afternoon.
Austin Crutcher and Chris Cruz hit solo home runs in the fourth and fifth, respectively, and Donny Murray tossed five and two-thirds innings of shutout baseball to lead the Unicorns to a 5-0 win over the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers.
Cruz, whose solo homer in the fifth inning gave Utica a 2-0 lead, has been arguably the league’s hottest player in the past month.
Since August 7, Cruz has collected 19 hits, eight home runs in 26 RBIs in 17 games.
In that span, the Unicorns went 11-6, improving their regular season record from 12-21 to 21-27 before winning both playoff games, including the title match.
“It feels awesome,” said Cruz when asked about playing such a huge role in his team’s turnaround. “There’s an old adage that hitting is contagious, and that’s definitely been true for us this year.”
Once again, the Unicorns proved that hitting is indeed contagious. They gave themselves some more breathing room in the ninth inning thanks to a rally that began with a two-out double by Cruz.
With the bases loaded, catcher Kyle Hamner brought in two more runs with a single to extend the lead to 4-0.
Designated hitter Mike Logsdon added another insurance run one batter later, lacing a double down the left field line that brought home Tyler McVicar.
Hamner and Logsdon were also major contributors in Saturday night’s playoff game between the Unicorns and Eastside Diamond Hoppers.
In the 4-3 victory over the Hoppers, Logsdon had a two-out, two-run single while Hamner blasted a two-run homer.
In addition to timely hitting, Donny Murray turned in a splendid performance on the mound for the Unicorns.
Murray, whose only other win came on July 10th when he no-hit the Beavers, went five and two-thirds innings on Sunday. He struck out seven Beavers, gave up just five hits and walked no one.
Seth Brenner, Andrew Potter and Mitch Aker pitched the game’s final three and one-third innings. Like Murray, none of the three relievers surrendered a walk.
The victory encapsulated how baseball is a game of streaks. The Unicorns finished with the worst record of the three USPBL teams over the course of the regular season, but were the hottest of the trio when it came down to crunch time.
Because of their ability to find their stroke at the right time, the Unicorns will be remembered as champions of the USPBL in the league’s inaugural 2016 season.
“That was obviously our goal the entire year,” said Cruz. “As a team, you want to come together when it matters.
“It’s hard to find words for it right now.”
Pacific Association – Sonoma Stompers
Sonoma Stompers Win First League Title
Empire League – New York Sullivan Explorers
The New York Sullivan Explorers have defeated the Watertown Bucks by a score of 8-6 to win the first Empire League Championship Series.
Kevin Putkonen and Gevon Jackson celebrated winning a baseball championship on Wednesday night for the second straight year in Watertown.
However, the pair didn’t bring home a title for the city as both seasons they played on teams that eliminated the Watertown Bucks in the playoffs, this time with the Sullivan Explorers.
The Explorers dashed any hopes the Bucks had of winning a championship by prevailing 8-6 in Game 2 of the Empire Professional Baseball League finals before a turnout of 136 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Putkonen, who is Sullivan’s player-manager, and Jackson both played last year on the Newburgh Newts, who swept the Watertown Bucks in two games to win the North Country Baseball League title.
“This is special,” said Putkonen, who finished last season as Newburgh’s player-manager. “I’ve been fortunate to be on good teams and it’s just our mentality. We found a new mentality about midway through the season, the guys bought into the system, we executed and we came out on top.”
This time, they teamed up to help spark the Explorers to the first-year EPBL’s title in a two-game sweep of Watertown in the finals.
The result left the Bucks — particularly manager Simon Walters — almost at a loss for words.
“You have no idea,” Walters said when asked how disappointed he was with the outcome. “In two games, we got like only four innings from our starters. So it’s disappointing.”
Watertown finished the regular season with the league’s best record (35-21) after winning both the first- and second- half titles.
But the Bucks, who lost the first game 8-7 on Tuesday, never led in the championship series against the red-hot Explorers.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Watertown left fielder Javier Marticorena said. “We came in after we clinched both (halves) of the season and we kind of expected a little better performance. But baseball is a strange game.”
Sullivan won 11 of their final 13 games to win the league title, including generating a nine-game winning streak to qualify for the postseason.
“It’s amazing, this is a very blessed feeling,” said Jackson, who was named the EPBL’s playoff MVP. “It’s been a long year personally, but when you come out here and play for your team, it all works out in the end — and that’s what it’s all about.”
Like in Tuesday’s playoff-opening loss to the Explorers, the Bucks never fully recovered from allowing a big inning early.
“That’s definitely something that can’t happen in big games like this,” Marticorena said. “You can’t allow such big innings early on to happen. We just dug ourselves too big a hole we couldn’t come out of.”
After striking for six runs in the first inning of the series opener, Sullivan jumped out to an early advantage by scoring four times for a 4-0 lead in the second inning on Wednesday.
“They beat us at their own game and they executed,” Walters said. “They were just the better team in this series. It doesn’t matter what our record indicated, they came in hot and took it to us from the get-go.”
Watertown, which played as the visiting team in the second game of the series, responded with a four-run frame of their own to tie the score in the top of the fourth.
After catcher Brian McKenna singled in a run, Johnny Cole scored on a wild pitch for the Bucks. After Calvin Graves walked, Sheehan Planas-Arteaga followed with a two-run single to left field to pull Watertown even at 4-4.
But Sullivan bounced back to take the lead for good with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Nate Coronado drew a leadoff walk and scored from first base after Adrian Gonzalez reached on an bunt single and Bucks third baseman Collis Hunt threw the ball away on the play.
Rey Ordonez Jr. followed with an RBI single to left field.
The Explorers led 8-4 in the fifth as Taylor Nichols and Coronado each reached on infield errors and came home as Gonzalez reached on a fielder’s choice and on an Ordonez single to left, respectively.
“That was huge, that put a lot of pressure on them,” said Jackson, who went 3-for-9 in the series and drove in four runs, including a two-run home run in the opener. “They’re a championship-type team. They scratched back at us and we did a great job of answering. They were here for a reason, but we answered them when we should have.”
The Bucks drew within 8-5 in the sixth as Planas-Arteaga reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on an infield error.
Watertown failed to score in the seventh and eighth, despite putting multiple runners on. It had runners on first and third with one out in the eighth, but Javier Marticorena flied out to short center field and Garcia was thrown out at the plate on a strike by Ordonez Jr.
The Bucks got within 8-6 in the ninth as Eddie Malone Jr. singled and scored when pinch hitter Alex Herceg reached on an infield error, but Graves grounded out to short the end the game.
“My mood is I’m disappointed,” Planas-Arteaga said. “We were there at the finish line, we just couldn’t cash it in.”
Sullivan ace Jameson McGrane pitched six innings to earn the win. Harrison Lee, the team’s No. 2 starter, tossed two scoreless innings and Erik Mozeika worked out of trouble in the ninth to record the save.
Watertown starter Ben Ancheff suffered his first loss of the season in seven starts as he lasted only three-plus innings.
Sullivan also got to Watertown ace Zach Breen early on in Tuesday’s season opener to deal him the loss.
“They beat us in all phases of the game tonight,” Walters said. “You have to tip your cap to them and that’s why they get to host the trophy tonight.”
Coronado, Brian Brademen and Jackson each singled in a run in Sullivan’s four-run second inning.
The Watertown Indians were the last city team to win a pro baseball championship by winning the New York-Penn League title in 1995
The Desert League
The Desert League is currently the only independent baseball league competing this fall. There have been a few bumps in the road that come along with start-up leagues, but Indy Ball Island hopes to have further updates on the league here in the next week.