Gas up the bus.
Given multiple chances to win one game and assure themselves of the franchise’s first Frontier League home playoff game in seven years, the Wild Things’ offense went AWOL as Washington lost its final two games of the regular season.
Evansville used Chris Sweeney’s solo home run to lead off the seventh inning and seven shutout innings by starting pitcher Edgar Lopez to defeat the Wild Things 1-0 Thursday night in the regular-season finale at Consol Energy Park.
Evansville’s win gives the Otters home-field advantage in Saturday night’s wild-card playoff game against the Wild Things, who dropped to third place. The teams entered the night tied in the standings with the winner getting to host the one-game playoff in the first round of the postseason.
Washington had an opportunity to clinch home-field advantage Wednesday but lost to the Otters, 10-5. Given a second chance, the Wild Things’ hitters couldn’t figure out Lopez (2-0), a rookie out of Central Oklahoma who was making only his third professional start. He allowed three hits over seven stellar innings.
“He’s the reason we’re going back home for the playoff game,” Sweeney said.
Washington managed only five baserunners against Lopez. The Wild Things stranded a runner at third base in the first, second and seventh innings. In the fifth inning, Andrew Heck, who tripled with two outs in the second, walked but was picked off first base by Lopez. Ryan Kresky followed with a two-out single but was stranded at first base.
In the seventh, Carter Bell hit a leadoff double off the left-field wall but Washington couldn’t drive him in. Bell stole second base with two outs but was left there when Heck lined out.
“That was a very good ballgame. We gave it everything we had,” Washington manager Bob Bozzuto said.
Washington starting pitcher Matt Sergey (3-1), who in his last appearance at Consol Energy Park threw the first perfect game in Frontier League history, matched Lopez by tossing seven innings, the first six the shutout variety.
Sweeney, a Pennsylvania native who played NCAA Division III ball at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, hit Sergey’s first pitch of the seventh inning high and deep to left field. The ball hugged the foul line and sailed just inside the foul pole for the game’s only run.
“Off the bat, I could tell that it was going to hang in there and be a fair ball,” Sweeney said. “I stayed at home plate to watch it for a second. At that point, I was just hoping the call would be correct.”
Home-plate umpire Chuck Adya made an emphatic fair-ball call and the Otters took the 1-0 lead.
“That was a pole-bender,” Evansville manager Andy McCauley said. “It was about 10 feet fair when it went over the wall, but sometimes an umpire makes a call according to where the ball lands. I saw Chuck was in position, right behind me at third base, watching it.”
Sergey pitched seven innings, allowed only three hits and one walk, and struck out a career-high 11 batters. He had at least one strikeout in every inning but the seventh.
“There was great pitching in the game. It kept you on the edge of your seat,” McCauley said.
Former Wild Things reliever Anthony Collazo replaced Lopez in the eighth. He hit Kresky with a pitch to start the inning but a failed sacrifice bunt derailed any chance of a rally.
Eric Massingham, who is the Frontier League’s all-time saves leader, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to send the teams to Evansville’s Bosse Field for Saturday’s one-and-done playoff game. Massingham has converted 70 of 71 career save opportunities.
Washington is expected to start lefty Zac Fuesser (9-2, 2.26) Saturday. Evansville will counter with Preston Olson (9-3, 2.72).
“The bottom line is no matter who won this game, you still have to win Saturday,” Bozzuto said. “A new season is starting.”
The Wild Things led the league in stolen bases (160), saves (36) and fielding percentage (.980). Washington’s pitchers issued the fewest walks (242) and threw the fewest wild pitches (27) in the league. … The Wild Things’ average attendance was 1,879, an increase of 172 per game over last season.