|Matt Vierling, image- Jay Floyd|
LAKEWOOD, NJ-- For the BlueClaws club that won the first and second half South Atlantic League Northern division titles, the destination for their bus following the season finale on Monday didn't make a difference.
Confidence among this bunch has been high all season long, which is no surprise considering the Class A Lakewood team notched the most wins in their franchise's history and sported the league's best record at 87-51.
It came down to the last day of the regular season to determine where the Class A BlueClaws would open the 2018 postseason. For West Virginia (Pirates affiliate), it was a "win and get in" scenario. A win on Monday would lock them in as the dvision's Wild Card entrant. However, a WV loss opened the door for Kannapolis (White Sox affiliate) to sneak in with a victory of their own.
Thus the journey to Kannapolis, NC for the opening round of the Sally League playoffs got rolling on Sunday evening.
Prior to their opponent being decided, the excitement level in the Lakewood locker room was way up.
"We put in a lot of hard work for this season and, especially since I joined this team in the second half, I've seen what we can do and where ever we're going after this, we're going to go down there and give it everything we got," said Matt Vierling, the Phillies' 5th round draft pick this year.
The 21-year-old righty hitting outfielder has been a considerable contributor to the BlueClaws' lineup throughout the second half, posting a .291 batting average with six homers and 25 RBI in 50 games.
Another new addition to the team for the second half of the season is first baseman Madison Stokes, who batted .260 with a homer and 11 RBI in 27 games with Lakewood after joining the team from short-season Class A Williamsport.
|Madison Stokes, image- Jay Floyd|
"It's exciting to be here my first year in pro ball and be able to make history with the BlueClaws and make a playoff run.
"For us to finish it, which we have a great opportunity to go all the way, then that'd be extremely special, especially for my first year in pro ball," Stokes asserted.
The BlueClaws will open the best-of-three divisional round on Wednesday evening at 7:05PM at Intimidators Stadium. Games two and three (if necessary) are slated to be played on Friday and Saturday at 7:05PM at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park.
More 'Claws notes...
Lakewood manager Marty Malloy with go with the following starting pitchers for the three-game series: RHP Andrew Brown (6-3 record, 2.10 ERA), RHP Spencer Howard (9-8 record, 3.71 ERA), LHP Damon Jones (10-7 record, 3.41 ERA).
Lefty Will Stewart (8-1 record, 2.06 ERA in 113 2/3 IP over 20 starts), who was the ace of the team's pitching staff through much of the season and started the Sally League All-Star Game for the Northern division, will not pitch in the postseason, after he recently reached an organization imposed innings limit and was shut down for the year.
Stewart along with OF/1b/3b Jake Scheiner, manager Marty Malloy and pitching coach Brad Bergesen were named last week to the South Atlantic League post-season All-Star team.
The BlueClaws have won three leagues titles in their history- 2006, 2009 and 2010.