(Central Islip, NY, October 11, 2021)One day removed from clinching a postseason bid, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs headed north to Long Island for game one of the Atlantic League North Division Championship Series. In a tightly contested contest, the Blue Crabs stranded two Ducks in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth to secure a 3-2 win, returning to Southern Maryland for games two and three of a three-game series.
Facing an MLB veteran, Darin Downs, (L, 0-1) the Blue Crabs bats struggled in the early going, failing to reach base in innings one and two, fanning five times. In the third inning, the bottom of the Blue Crabs order came through, as they have all season long. Josh McAdams led off with a single before Joe DeLuca did the same, extending to a 17-game hit streak. DeLuca finished the regular season on a torrid pace, posting a .481 batting average in the final 16 games of the regular season, leading the league in that time frame by .082. Michael Baca continued the offense in the third, driving in a run by singling to left field. Later in the inning, with two outs and Baca at third base, Rubi Silva laid down a perfect push bunt, allowing Baca to score.
The Crabs took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the third with the 24-year-old Southern Maryland rookie, Kyle Murphy, (W, 1-0) on the mound, Murphy was elite despite allowing a solo homer to an MLB veteran, Chris Shaw to lead off the third inning.
The next scoring came in the fifth inning for both sides, beginning with an RBI single from the bat of Matt Hibbert, giving Southern Maryland a 3-1 lead. In his final inning of work, Murphy would allow a single past the diving glove of Josh McAdams from Vladimir Frias to make the score 3-2, with the Blue Crabs on top before Dylan Brammer recorded the final out of the sixth inning.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Southern Maryland handed the ball to the back end of their bullpen, beginning with Dalton Geekie who struck out the side in order, issuing just 11 pitches in a nearly perfect seventh inning. Endrys Briceno took the hill in the eighth inning, setting down three straight Ducks to send the ballgame to the ninth and final inning.
In the top of the ninth, Southern Maryland’s offense stranded two runners on the basepaths. In the bottom of the ninth, former Cy Young candidate, nine-year MLB veteran, Mat Latos (S, 1) took the mound for the Blue Crabs. Latos, who was 24 for 25 in save opportunities in the regular season, took the mound in front of 4,342 screaming Ducks fans. The inning began with a defensive blunder that landed L.J. Mazzili on the basepaths, but Southern Maryland’s catcher, Joe DeLuca, threw out his second Ducks runner of the game for out number one. After Deibinson Romero and Hector Sanchez singled, Latos induced a potential double-play ball, but another defensive mishap resulted in getting just one out, coming at first base. With runners on second and third and two outs, holding a 3-2 lead, the reigning ALPB Reliever of the Year forced a groundout from Ty Kelly to secure a series-opening win on the road.
Victorious in an instant classic, the Crabs return to Southern Maryland for the remainder of the three-game series, needing just one more win to punch a spot in the Atlantic League Championship series.