The Winnipeg Goldeyes concluded the 2012 regular season on Monday night at Shaw Park losing the 100th and final game 11-3 to the North Division champion Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks before a crowd of 6,785.
The Goldeyes finished the season with a 55-45 record, 10 games back of the RedHawks (65-35), and with fewer victories than 2011's 60-win campaign.
However, Goldeyes manager Rick Forney will guide the team into the playoffs for the sixth time in his seven seasons as the Fish earned the league's wild-card berth. Forney is still looking for his first playoff series win.
The Goldeyes will meet the RedHawks in a best-of-five semifinal series. Games One and Two go Wednesday and Thursday at Fargo's Newman Outdoor Field. The series will return to Winnipeg's Shaw Park on Friday (7 p.m.) and, if necessary, Saturday (6 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.).
"We're excited to be in the playoffs and have a chance to play. We're excited to play Fargo and I'm sure they're excited to play in the playoffs, and play us, so it should be good and the intensity should be pretty high," Forney said.
The Goldeyes spent the first 53 days of the season in first place in the North, but the bottom fell out in early July, starting with a five-game losing skid which included four straight losses at home to Fargo.
Injuries, mediocre relief pitching, 30 straight days with no day off and no rainouts led to tough times for the Goldeyes. Fargo passed them on July 15 and made the North Division title chase a one-horse race. A few late-season roster changes combined with the steady play of a few core players resulted in the Goldeyes earning the wild-card despite winning just 23 in their last 47 games.
"I would think these guys would be hungry. They've had to persevere through a lot the last seven or eight weeks," Forney said. "We've had some guys who've had some really good seasons.
"I'm not so sure they were convinced that they weren't going to make it. I think they were secretly telling themselves everything's going to be okay when we were playing so (crappy). You couldn't convince me that we weren't one of the four top teams in this league anyway."
The Goldeyes announced on Monday the 2012 player of the year award, based on player-of-the game selections by media after each home game, would go to two players, Chris Roberson and Josh Mazzola.
Luis Alen, catcher, fourth Goldeyes season: played 99 games in the 2012 regular season including 95 at catcher, a grisly grind in the crouch position. Though he battled through various injuries all season, he was a consistent performer. One of the team's top hitters (.317) with one of the best on-base percentages (.393), he struck out just 13 times in 375 at-bats, the fewest of any player in the league with 250 or more at-bats.
Chris Roberson, centre-field, first Goldeyes season: An upbeat person whose speed and ball-tracking skills made impossible catches look easy, Roberson was one of the team's batting leaders (.317), second in home runs with 11 and third in RBI with 59. His numbers would have been even better but for a serious eye injury suffered on Aug. 18 when a foul ball off his own bat hit him in the face. He took six stitches and missed five games.
Josh Mazzola, right-field/first base, first Goldeyes season: the same player who struck out five times in Amarillo, Texas during the season-opening road trip, Mazzola went on to become one of the team's steadiest players at the plate and in the field. Hitting .308, he appeared in 98 games and led the team in home runs with 18 and RBI with 74.
Matt Rusch, right-handed pitcher, first Goldeyes season: Rusch came to the Goldeyes from Quebec of the Can-Am League and has been a dominant starter, as his 10-4 record indicates. Rusch tossed a career-high 13 strikeouts in his last start of the regular season last Saturday in the win that clinched the wild-card. Rusch leads the league with a 2.40 ERA and is tied for the league lead in strikeouts with 113.
Brian Beuning, right-handed reliever, third Goldeyes season: Even though he arrived a month into the 2012 season, the steely-nerved Minnesota State Patrol trooper pitched 63.1 innings in 28 appearances with a 1.00 ERA. The best story on the team this season, Beuning joined the club on a temporary basis to begin with, using vacation time. He became full-time when he began parental leave after the birth of his son Max on July 30.