Tri-City eliminates Mahoning Valley in NY-PL Semis
NILES — The team changed. The manager was new. The opponent was different, and the season was one of a kind.
The result in the New York-Penn League playoffs? That stayed the same.
For the second straight year, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers were swept in the first round of the postseason. This time it was the Tri-City ValleyCats, who finished off the best-of-three series with an 8-4 victory Thursday at Eastwood Field in Game 2. They won Game 1, 9-6, on Wednesday.
Celebrating their 20th season in the Mahoning Valley, the Scrappers won the Pinckney Division with a 42-33 record. A memorable season with numerous ninth-inning comebacks, the Scrappers seemed destined for a playoff run.
A potent ValleyCats offense wasn’t having it.
“We just couldn’t hold down their hitting,” Mahoning Valley manager Jim Pankovits said. “They got a lot of big hits. They were able to get a big lead (Wednesday), and if you give up 17 runs in two games, you’re not going to win many games.”
The Scrappers (42-35) took the lead in Game 2. The game was tied at 1 until the fourth, when the Scrappers pulled ahead on a run-scoring double by Clark Scolamiero and then an RBI single by Jason Rodriguez. That gave MV a 3-1 edge.
Things started to come unglued for the Scrappers pitching staff in the sixth, however. They used three pitchers, but none were effective. Eli Lingos came in to relieve starter Shane McCarthy. Lingos gave up a double, a walk and a RBI single before being pulled. Next up was Luis Santos, who allowed a walk and then a two-run double that gave Tri-City a 4-3 lead.
By the end of the 36-minute inning, the Scrappers had allowed four walks, four hits, five runs and a 6-3 lead.
“That’s baseball,” said MV shortstop Tyler Freeman, who led the league in hitting this year. “There’s those innings that either side can have, and it can change the whole game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for us.”
The Scrappers got a run back to make it 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth, with Simeon Lucas tripling to deep center field and scoring on a ground out. With so many late-inning comebacks throughout the year, the game was still within reach going into the ninth inning. And then it wasn’t.
Tri-City’s Luis Encarnacion pulverized a two-run homer to left field in the top of the inning to essentially remove all doubt. The Scrappers went 1-2-3 in the ninth to end another postseason. The Scrappers haven’t won a first-round playoff matchup since 2009, when they lost in the championship series. Their last — and only — title came in 2004.
“It’s going to be a tough off-season for a lot of these guys,” Pankovits said, “because they really thought we had a chance to go deep in this thing and maybe win it, and I had the same opinion.”
Freeman was one of several bright spots for a talented group.
The 19-year-old shortstop was outstanding offensively and defensively. He played the entire season in the Mahoning Valley and batted .352 (21 points higher than the second-best player in the league). He had a NYPL-high 29 doubles (18 was second best) and was tied for the league lead with 49 runs.
He also made numerous highlight reel plays while and was steady all year at shortstop (and second base).
“Remarkable,” Pankovits said in describing Freeman’s season. “He just ran out of gas here at the end. He plays extremely hard. He plays a premium position up the middle. Gosh, he was on base three or four times every game it seemed like. … He’s the MVP of the league in my opinion.”
Freeman appreciated the high praise and admitted he even surprised himself with how well he played, but he was more focused on what the team achieved.
A group of players from all different backgrounds, many of who spoke different languages, came together and formed an uncommon bond when it comes to minor league baseball. Freeman was just happy to part of it.
“There’s players from all over, but they all had one goal in mind, and that was to pick each other up and win every game possible,” he said. “Our motto was to get the next guy up. From a brotherhood standpoint, this team ranks up there, for sure. I couldn’t ask to go to war with any other group of guys.”
Tri-City plays Hudson Valley, which swept Auburn in their semifinal, for the NY-PL Championship.