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Triple play helps hold off the Otters and keep Southern Illinois going strong


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POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

One thing's for sure: The view is a lot better from the top.

After spending the bulk of the season on the outside looking in, the Southern Illinois Miners are finally hitting their stride. For the first time since the opening week of our 96-game Frontier League schedule, we are at long last at the top of our division.

Thanks in no small part to our season-best 10-game win streak, we have put ourselves into the driver's seat as we head into the final week and a half of our regular season.

It seemed as though we spent about three months being a game out of the wild card and two games off the division lead. And I think we did. Parity in our division was a big factor, as the teams at the top of the standings have scratched and clawed each other all season long.

We have felt for some time that we had the talent and depth to make a run at the postseason. But things never really fell into place on a consistent basis until recently. We have played good, solid baseball for the past couple of weeks, but not perfect by any means.

Getting good pitching and timely hitting night after night have been the keys. The best byproduct of our success is confidence. We've scored early and scored late. We've come up with some big pitches in key situations, and we've made the big defensive plays when we've needed them most.

No defensive play has been bigger or more spectacular than the stop we received Thursday night in the second inning of our 3-1 win over the Evansville Otters.

With both teams jockeying for position in an early scoreless tie, our starter Danny Zeffiro marched back out for the second inning after setting the Otters down in order in the bottom of the first, sandwiching a groundout to second between a pair of strikeouts to record a strong 11-pitch first frame.

As usual, Danny went right at the Otters in the second inning as well, pounding the strike zone with his three-pitch repertoire. But in that inning, a quick double to right-center and a single up the middle gave Evansville an early 1-0 lead. The next hitter singled through the six-hole to give the Otters runners at first and second with no outs.

With a formidable arm in hard-throwing Nick Utley opposing us for the Otters, we knew that the early scoring advantage would play a big part in the outcome of our game.

By the looks of things, Danny needed to make some big pitches, and get a little help from his friends to get us back into the dugout within striking distance of the Otters.

In this situation, we were hoping for a strikeout and a double-play groundball to get us out of the inning. Danny needed to walk the fine line of staying in command of the count without leaving any pitches over the middle of the plate.

Before we knew it, Danny had gone 3-1 on Evansville's hard-hitting rookie right-fielder, Cameron Satterwhite. At that point Danny had to decide if he wanted to force contact with a fastball over the plate, or try to get Satterwhite to chase a slider out of the zone and risk the possibility of loading the bases with no outs.

Danny stayed aggressive and challenged Satterwhite with a two-seam fastball in the lower third of the strike zone and got under his barrel to get a hard-hit ground ball. As the ball came off the bat, we hoped it was hit at somebody, and it was. Satterwhite stung a stiff two-hopper down the third-base line, and our third baseman Landon Camp was there to make the play.

As long as I've been in baseball—going back to my first season of Little League as a second-grader—I've never seen in person the rarest of defensive feats, the triple play.

When I have seen one, it's been on “;SportsCenter,”; and usually on a line drive caught with runners moving, where the runners are kind of stuck in no-man's land. A natural triple play is pretty tough to come by.

But Camp has exhibited pretty good decision-making skills as the season has progressed, and he quickly stepped on third base, and then turned left and threw to second base, where our Will Block made the turn and got the third out at first base.

It happened so fast none of us in the dugout could see it coming, A triple play had ended the threat and given us some momentum going into our half of the inning. Danny continued on for eight strong innings, allowing just the one run as we rode two homers to record the 3-1 victory.

Even with our streak of wins, we still have our work cut out for us. With the Windy City Thunderbolts just a game behind us and the River City Rascals a game and a half back, we need to keep playing good baseball just to earn a slot in our league's playoffs in September.

Better yet, we play Windy City and River City at home to close the season, so we certainly control our own fate. I'm no psychic, so I don't know how the next week and a half will play out. But if we keep making things happen like our triple play, we will give ourselves a pretty good chance.

 

Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo, is pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.