Queen’s baseball entered their first playoff weekend on a high note, winning four straight games the previous weekend and hoping to continue the winning trend in the playoffs. The Gaels knew, however, that they were in for a tough battle against the Durham Lords, as they had split their last doubleheader with the Lords.
The playoff series began at Megaffin Stadium on Saturday, when the temperature dipped to single digits and made for a frigid game. The cold caused some sloppy play.
The Gaels jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, but the Lords came back with five unanswered runs in the third to take the lead. A couple of runs in the fourth inning brought Queen’s to within a run, and they needed a big hit to overtake Durham. In the bottom of the sixth, second baseman Justin Del Pena gave them just that, knocking in two runs with a clutch double into the gap, lifting the Gaels to a 6-5 game one victory.
The team’s morale was high after the game, as they not only defeated Durham in such cold conditions, but also came back from a 5-2 deficit to do so. A combination of clutch hitting and a strong, 114-pitch complete game performance by Dan Forita helped Queen’s come out on top.
“Any game when you can come back is a great win, especially in these tough conditions,” said head coach Perry Conrad after the game.
“With a win in such sloppy weather, things can only look up,” added outfielder Kyle Hickson.
Game two of the doubleheader saw a duel between starting pitchers Mike Arsenault of Queen’s and Gord Robertson of Durham. The game was scoreless for both sides until the fourth inning, when the Gaels squeaked out two runs with an RBI single by Fulton and a run by Concessi on an overthrow.
The Gaels were coasting until the top of the seventh, when Queen’s saw Durham fight back with some bunt hits, sacrifice flies, and blooper singles. The fluke hits gave the Lords a 5-2 comeback win, and the Gaels could only shake their heads at the missed opportunity.
After the game, Conrad said he noticed a couple of things his team could improve on.
“[We had] only two runs in the second inning, so our hitting wasn’t very good, and we left seven on base, so obviously we need better timely hitting,” said Conrad. Nevertheless, Conrad said he was optimistic for the next day’s contest.
“It’s good to come away with a split at home,” he said. “We’re ready to play some ball tomorrow and then head home for turkey!”
The stage was set for Sunday’s game at Durham. Neither starting pitchers failed to impress, as Gaels starter Lorne Berger threw six shutout innings, and Durham’s Jeff Ridgeway went the complete distance.
Queen’s opened the game’s scoring with an RBI triple by Jason Sukhraj in the fifth inning. Queen’s hoped it would be enough, but in the bottom of the seventh, Durham’s Mark Greenberg came in for relief and allowed a double that scored the tying run. The teams headed to extra innings.
In the top of the eighth, Queen’s could muster no offence as all three batters went down with strikeouts. In the bottom of the frame, Durham’s offence came alive with two runners in scoring position. Bad luck struck the Gaels again, as a passed ball scored the winning run, which not only ended the game, but also shattered the Gaels’ post season dreams.
Pitcher Mike Bertoia said Queen’s ran into a very good pitching performance from the Lords.
“Despite our efforts, we just simply faced a pitcher who threw eight amazing innings,” he said.
“It was the most exciting game of the season,” Bertoia added. “Berger pitched six and a third shutout innings, and when [Sukhraj] hit that triple there was electricity in the air, everyone was screaming.”
The season’s end was bittersweet. The Gaels finished the regular season with an impressive second place standing in their division and stormed into the playoffs with four straight wins.
Nevertheless, Bertoia said Queen’s baseball has a bright future.
“The vets were always saying how this is the best Queen’s team they’ve been on so far, so unless they were just trying to be nice, next season should be one for the books,” he said.
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