For Jefferson, Central playoff run erases taste of so-so, rain-plagued regular season
- Jefferson has 1-0 lead over Stoverstown in the Central League Playoff Championship Series.
- Jefferson won the series opener on Sunday, 7-4.
- Game 2 in the series is set for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at Stoverstown.
There are really two ways to look at things for the 2018 Jefferson Titans baseball organization.
For one, the Titans are already guaranteed a berth in the upcoming Tom Kerrigan Memorial Tournament over Labor Day weekend by virtue of their status as defending Kerrigan champions.
On the other hand, Jefferson was not merely satisfied with cashing in its berth without an appropriate resume to go along with it.
Sure they wanted to be there, but they also wanted to be there by earning it.
After a so-so Central League regular season that featured many rainouts, the Titans finished fifth in the league standings at 13-13-1. Not terrible, but not exactly championship-worthy, either. So the Titans embarked on this year’s playoffs with just one goal in mind — win it.
“At the end of the season we got really hot,” Jefferson manager Pat Shultz said. “And we’re riding it now.”
That hot streak, which continued with Sunday’s 7-4 victory over regular-season champion Stoverstown in Game 1 of the best-of-three Central League Playoff Championship Series, has pushed the Titans out of mediocrity and firmly back into contender status.
Jefferson can clinch a second straight league playoff crown with a win at Stoverstown on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 5:45 p.m.
During their current seven-game winning-streak, the Titans have done it with the big two — timely hitting and outstanding pitching. The staff in total has allowed just 10 runs (seven earned) during that time frame.
Meanwhile, big hits, such as Tyler Troxel’s third-inning grand slam Sunday against Stoverstown, have given the squad a lot of breathing room with which to work.
“The guys have just really started getting in a groove,” Shultz said. “The guys are all believing right now and our pitching has been fantastic. And all of these wins have been really good team wins.”
Rain issues: Their current groove has almost completely erased a more-than-hectic season for Shultz. The Titans entered the final week of the season needing to make up 10 contests. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Shultz was only able to get half of them in.
“We were playing games and I was scheduling everything that I could, knowing that we still had more make-up games,” he said. “It seemed like every day we had a game scheduled.”
Because the Central League shifted to a points system a few years ago, playing games and getting wins really matters. In the current system, wins are good for three points, ties earn a single point and losses are worth nothing.
So playing five less games meant that the Titans, who were just three points away from third-place Vikings, missed out on a theoretical maximum of 15 points.
Eligibility issues: Another factor in having less games to play was the impact it had on player eligibility for the playoffs. Southpaw Jon Kibler has been a mainstay for the Titans since joining the club a few years ago, but Kibler was unable to play in the requisite amount of contests this year. As a result, Kibler cannot play in the playoffs this go-around.
The good news is that Kibler will be eligible come the Kerrigan Tournament.
“Oh, yeah, he’ll be there,” Shultz said with a smile.
And so will the Titans, with a resume worthy of inclusion.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.