Fish are flying into playoffs
Win 2 straight to end regular season, face RedHawks in first round
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It’s often said the most successful playff teams are the hottest when the regular season ends. The Winnipeg Goldeyes took the adage to heart Monday afternoon.
The Fish (53-47) closed the 2022 regular season in deciding fashion on Labour Day in front of 4,886 fans at Shaw Park, routing the visiting Sioux Falls Canaries 10-1 to win their last series of the campaign.
It was a meaningless game in the standings, as the Goldeyes were locked into the third seed in the West playoffs and the Canaries (33-67) were cemented as the worst team in the West Division, but the 100th game may have been a much-needed shot of momentum for the Winnipeg club heading into the fall dance.
The Fish were a disappointing 7-15 in their previous 22 games heading into the final contest, but closed the year with a tune-up and on a two-game winning streak.
“The good thing we wanted from this last series was to build some confidence going into the playoffs, which I think is exactly what we did,” said Amos Ramon, who finished his first full season as the Goldeyes hitting coach.
“I’m really excited about the players. I think we’ve done everything that we needed to do to get (to the playoffs). I’m just excited to get this thing going.”
The Goldeyes rarely had trouble hitting this season, and that carried into the season finale, as the top-four batters put on a show.
Raul Navarro, Ian Sagdal, Max Murphy and David Washington combined for 10 hits and seven RBI, and reached base 14 times in the game.
Navarro set the tone in the bottom of the first when he punched a leadoff triple into the right-field corner.
In the next at-bat, Sagdal looped a ball to shallow left field where the Canaries’ Jacob Rhinesmith dropped a routine out, scoring Navarro and pushing Sagdal to second base.
After the Canaries tied the game in the second inning, the Fish flipped the game on its head in the third.
A leadoff walk from Navarro was nearly ruined by what looked to be a tailor-made double-play from Sagdal before Canaries’ second baseman Nick Gotta overthrew the easy out, allowing Navarro and Sagdal to safely reach third and second, respectively.
The recently-turned switch-hitter, Washington, made sure the visitors paid for their boo-boo, pulling a two-RBI single up the right foul line from his lefty stance to push the hosts in front by a pair of runs.
Errors were a common theme for the last-place Canaries all afternoon, racking up four in a contest where the Goldeyes were getting a lot of solid contact.
In the fourth inning, outfielder Reggie Pruitt Jr. jogged home after another wayward throw on a hit by Navarro. The ensuing at-bat saw Sagdal loft an opposite field ball that narrowly fell fair. Navarro scored, swelling the Goldeyes’ lead to four runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Washington continued a monster inning for the home team, blasting an RBI single back over starting pitcher Christian Johnson’s head.
Johnson was promptly pulled, ending his day after just 3.1 innings.
On the other side, John Vargas toed the rubber for the Goldeyes in the season finale. It was his first start of the year against the Canaries and he couldn’t have asked for a much better go of things.
He made easy work of the visiting lineup, striking out two batters while allowing just four hits, a walk and a lone run in five innings of work.
While the game had the feeling of being nothing but a formality by the time the sixth inning rolled around, the top four weren’t done with their holiday special.
Navarro stayed hot with a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth and the trend stayed the course with Sagdal punching a single to left field in the next at-bat.
Murphy wasn’t to be outdone, though, as he snuck a single up the third-base line to score Navarro and grow the lead to six runs.
“They’ve been (hot) pretty much all year,” Ramon said.
“The thing I tell the guys in the playoffs is it’s not your top four, it’s when your bottom-three turn the lineup over. When you have a guy like Reggie (Pruitt Jr.) that can flip the lineup, it makes things easier at the top.”
Murphy, who was the quietest of the Big Four on the day with a stellar two hits, two RBI and one walk, had reason to celebrate before the game started.
The outfielder was recognized as the Goldeyes player of the year for a brilliant campaign that featured 124 hits (third-most), 96 RBI (most) and 31 home runs (most).
While Murphy tied Kyle Martin’s mark set in 2021 for most home runs in a single season in franchise history, he and Washington (30) also became the first teammates in league history to record 30 home runs in the same season.
Second baseman Kevin Lachance was also named as the Goldeyes hardest working player ahead of the game.
“Finishing off the year with a (win) always helps make everybody feel better about themselves,” said Sagdal. “We went through a tough two weeks there. But at the end of the day, we all have each other’s backs. These games, they do mean something for us. It kind of gets the ball rolling and everybody, I know myself, personally, swinging the bat now, finding my timing back. That’s definitely going to help me going into the first game of the playoffs.”
While the Goldeyes were playing, so too were the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks and the Kansas City Monarchs in a much more fateful contest to decide who would claim the West Division crown.
The Monarchs won 8-5 and, as a result, were allowed to choose who they play in the first round of the playoffs. They selected the fourth-place Lincoln Saltdogs.
The Goldeyes will begin their quest for a fifth championship against the Redhawks Wednesday at Shaw Park, opening a three-game series.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.