- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
From worst to first and a fourth straight playoff berth.
The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs clinched the Liberty Division second-half title Friday at home in Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium thanks to an impressive 7-2 victory over Atlantic League-best Lancaster, reserving their spot in the postseason for the fourth consecutive year with only two regular season games left as they now fixate on vying for the fifth-year franchise’s first league championship.
This is the same Lancaster club that had just set the league’s single-season record for most wins at 87 the night before in Bridgeport, breaking the mark formerly attained by Somerset during its 2009 championship campaign. Lancaster, managed by former Blue Crabs skipper Butch Hobson, has been the model of consistency atop the league this season, boasting the top offense and pitching staff.
Hughesville native Daryl Thompson was undeterred by all Lancaster’s accolades and dominated during his start on the mound with seven shut-out innings and only two hits allowed, fanning seven with no walks, in leading the Blue Crabs (68-70 overall, 38-30 second half) to the crucial victory. The 2003 La Plata graduate dazzled his fellow Southern Marylanders in the well-attended crowd of 4,751, including an array of family and friends, by continuing his run of stellar pitching over the last month as one of the Blue Crabs’ best arms.
In the process, the Blue Crabs made their last-place, franchise-worst finish during the first half a distant memory while eliminating hard-charging Bridgeport (66-71, 35-32) in second place.
“I was part of this [type of playoff celebration] three times, when I first got traded to the Reds at triple-A [from 2007-09],” the former Major Leaguer Thompson said amidst a festive Blue Crabs clubhouse after the clinching win, full of celebratory bottle-popping with players soaked in sudsy beverages while the plastic covering the carpet was puddle-ridden. “I’ve been here before [to celebrate a playoff berth professionally], and it almost feels like the first time because it was special. My hometown fans were all here and my family was here.”
He added about the storybook scenario, “Being able to be here, 10-15 minutes from my house and [my family] is able to come out and watch me throw, it was a big moment. They were pretty excited about it. I was excited about it.”
The Blue Crabs finish up this series with Lancaster (87-51, 42-26) Sunday and then have a couple days off before hosting Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series on Wednesday and Thursday next week at 7:05 p.m. each night.
Though Long Island chose to host Games 3 through 5, the latter two if necessary, as the first-half champion, the Blue Crabs are heavy favorites in the series. They are 14-6 versus Long Island this season, including a dominant 9-1 this second half with six straight wins in the matchup. Plus, Long Island (61-74, 22-44) has endured a miserable second half with a league-worst record, 15 games behind the Blue Crabs.
Lancaster and two-time reigning champion York (78-60, 42-26), the best two teams during the regular season whose playoff berths have long been clinched, meet in the Freedom Division Championship Series.
Should the Blue Crabs take care of business in the first round of the playoffs against Long Island, they would meet either Lancaster or York in the best-of-five championship series. The Blue Crabs would host Games 3-5 of the championship series, the latter two contests if necessary, on Oct. 5-7.
“This season has been difficult and coming [into] tonight, it was going to be difficult,” Blue Crabs manager Pat Osborn said, understanding that his mentor Hobson and a familiar Lancaster opponent with a handful of former Blue Crabs were not going to roll over despite having little to play for in this final series. “We were facing arguably the best pitcher in the league [in Lancaster’s Dwayne Pollock], who’s probably going to be Pitcher of the Year, and [going] against the best team in the league, and we got it done. We really earned it. I don’t think anyone can take anything away from this team. We have really earned this second-half championship.”
“I’m glad they won [the second-half division title] against us,” Hobson indicated. “I’m ecstatic for [Osborn] and that bunch of people [with the Blue Crabs]. He has good people, and I’m just thrilled to death for that bunch over there.”
The second-year Blue Crabs manager added, “I’m glad [the second-half race is] over with. I’m glad we can relax. Bridgeport made a run at us and played really well. They were right on our tails, but these guys persevered and played well when it mattered.”
In less than two weeks, surging Bridgeport trimmed the Blue Crabs’ commanding 5 1/2-game division lead down to just 1 1/2 games by Sunday and appeared primed to overtake a struggling Southern Maryland outfit.
But the Blue Crabs had at least one more wave of resilience left in their claws by sweeping Camden in three games on the road Thursday, the same night a hot Bridgeport team just missed a sweep of Lancaster by falling in an 11-9 wild affair that served as the league’s record-breaker for wins.
Bridgeport thus slid back to 2 1/2 games behind the Blue Crabs, whose magic number was one entering Friday.
Thompson’s masterful right-handed stuff combined with a streaky Blue Crabs offensive attack that has been in high gear all week easily took care of business in the series opener against Lancaster, rendering Bridgeport’s 5-1 win meaningless at Somerset Friday.
Brian Barton’s two-run homer in the third provided the Blue Crabs with the first scoring of the game, and they broke things open in the sixth with four more runs.
“Even though we went through a lot of adversity, went through some struggles, as a team we stayed confident,” said Blue Crabs right fielder Mike Daniel, who led the offense with three doubles and two RBIs Friday. “We were knew were going to be here [clinching the second-half title and a playoff berth] one day. We had that sense of urgency. We knew we had to take care of Camden and needed to win tonight.
“[Winning a championship] is the goal. We’re happy to be here, we’re glad this step 1. We know we have the team to beat.”
Blue Crabs 7, Lancaster 2
Lancaster 000 000 000 2 5 1
Blue Crabs 002 014 000 7 10 1
WP Thompson (2-2), LP Pollok (14-4)
Extra-base hits: 2B Gailen (L, 26), Everidge (L, 21), Daniel 3 (BC, 26), Rios (BC, 16); 3B Gutierrez (BC, 1); HR Barton (BC, 8)