The Midwest League started using a three-round post-season format in 1995. The River Bandits became the fourth team to sweep all three rounds but only the second to win seven games to sweep. In 2001, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, Kane County was declared the winner after one game of the finals after they had swept the first and second rounds. In 2008, Burlington won six post-season games and was declared the winner because of inclement weather. The only other team to win seven straight post-season games is Lansing - the team that the Bandits beat in the finals this week. Before 1995, there were only one or two rounds of playoffs in the Midwest League.
Again, Josh Jones has posted daily reports to recap the games. Again this week I'm going to highlight a few players and write a little about what it's like for a fan to watch his team win a championship.
Dean Kiekhefer stands head and shoulders above the crowd. As the 'designated closer' for the finals, he simply got the job done. In each of the three games this week, he was called on to close out the game. In each of those three games, he faced the winning run or the go-ahead run in the inning. In each game, he shut down the offense. He gets my vote for a post-season All-Star nomination.
Besides Dean, Drew Benes, Aidan Lucas, and Seth Maness were the relievers for the playoffs. Each of them showed a few chinks in their armor but each of them kept the team in the game and kept us within reach of the win. Extra kudos go to Seth Maness, who joined the team just as the playoffs started and showed that he belonged here.
With all the attention that was given to Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras, there were actually a couple of batters who had better averages during the playoffs. Jonathan Rodriguez hit .385 to edge out both of them. Colin Walsh hit .500 in the seven games.
Geoff Klein came up big, too. He hit .308 in the seven contests and came up with a game-changing homer in the last one. His leadership from behind the plate made a noticeable difference in the team, too.
Saturday night was a long time in coming for the faithful fans in Davenport. It had been 21 years since we have had a Midwest League Championship. It had been 16 years since we got past the first round of the playoffs. It was an exciting night for everyone. A crowd of about 2,500 was on hand - the second biggest post-season attendance at any game this year.
I was able to connect with a couple of my readers as the game started. A special shout out to rchiii and forsch31. It was great to meet you and to get to talk baseball. It's especially good to get to share that last win of the year with you! Having made no secret on the board that rchiii is an old friend of Trevor, it was a real pay-off that he was able to witness Trevor's win. The fans really got into the game Saturday more than normal so it was more fun for all of us.
The game itself was the jewel in the crown of an outstanding season. Trevor Rosenthal gave up a run in the first inning and I heard several fans say, "Well, we've had come-from-behind wins all week! We'll do it again tonight!" And so it was. The Bandits answered with two runs in the bottom of the first and they just didn't look back. Rosenthal shut down the Lugnuts' offense for the next five innings but showed signs of fatigue as the game went into the seventh. He allowed one more run and left the game with a runner on base that scored and was charged against Trevor. The Lugnuts threatened again in the ninth but Kiekhefer didn't allow them to get past him.
Fans wanted to charge the field and join the post-game celebration but it was kept to the team. It was FUN to watch them observe protocol - they stood back as Johnny Rodriguez accepted the trophy. As soon as he touched the trophy, they all joined in touching it, holding it up, and kissing it. I had forgotten what a rush it is to be at the celebration.
I'll be writing more in my season recap so I'm not going to go on and on today. Those who read this column every week know that I'm a fan of this team as well as being a writer. Let me just say that this team has made it all worthwhile! Thank you to each of you for reading and to each of the guys on the team who have made it worth writing again this year.
And for one last time as the season ends,
Bonus photos from our friends at Names Around Town Photography
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