JOLIET – After rolling past Schaumburg, 9-1, on Friday to open their final series of the regular season, the Joliet Slammers took much of the pressure off of themselves in regard to the Frontier League playoffs.
By improving to 53-41 on the season after that contest, manager Jeff Isom’s squad assured themselves of a second playoff appearance in the past three seasons. They trailed Washington by one game after Saturday’s contests, so the Wild Things captured the East Division title.
As a result, the Slammers will host the West Division champion Tuesday and Wednesday and then play on the road from Friday through Sunday, if that’s necessary, in the best-of-five game series. Evansville and River City were tied for first in that division.
On Friday, Joliet was led by Taylor Goshen, who only allowed one run on three hits while striking out 10 in seven innings. Ridge Hoopii-Haslam drove in two runs and joined Justin Garcia, Trenton Hill and Brian Parreira with two hits apiece.
On Saturday, the Slammers were unable to move into a tie for first after Washington lost, 6-5, at Lake Erie while they fell, 7-5, to Schaumburg. Trenton Hill went 4 for 4 with three RBIs to lead the way for Joliet.
Isom received the Roger Hanners Award as the Frontier League’s Manager of the Year for the third time. He also won the award when the Slammers made the playoffs in 2016 as well as in 2002 while with Washington. The veteran skipper is excited about how well his current squad has performed throughout the season in order to make a return to the playoffs.
“We were consistent all season long,” Isom said. “Other than the first five games, we didn’t have a whole lot of losses in a row, and we had a couple of nice winning streaks, including a 10-gamer. This is a fun group to be around, and they like to be around each other. They go out and work hard, so that I don’t have to get on them too much and that’s also been a nice thing for us.”
The Slammers possessed one of the higher ERAs in the league early in the season, but eventually developed into one of the top staffs in the Frontier League.
“Our pitchers have done a heck of a job,” Isom said. “We don’t have a pitching coach, but we’ve got some veteran guys like Liam O’Sullivan, catcher and pitcher Cody Clark and reliever Keegan Long who have stepped up and worked with those younger guys, and that’s a big reason for our success. And our catchers have a good job of calling pitches. And we’ve been very fortunate since we haven’t had a whole lot of injuries with our staff.”
Beside possessing one of the top defensive units in the league, the Slammers have been very opportunistic at the plate by capitalizing their ability to get on base, and then using their aggressive baserunning to put their attack into motion.
“We’ve been very fortunate with our defense, especially the left side of our infield with Danny Zardon and Chaz Meadows. And a lot of the success of our pitching staff has been due to the defense. One offense, we’re not very high in batting average, but we’re first in stolen bases and walks. And the biggest thing is runs scored since we have to outscore these other teams. So even though our batting is low, we’ve found ways to score runs, and it’s given us a chance to win a lot of games.”
Not surprisingly, the Slammers have several of the league’s leaders in various categories, including pitcher Liam O’Sullivan, who is tied for the league lead with 11 victories and is fourth with 3.15 ERA and Hill, who ranks fourth in batting average with a .327 mark.
But perhaps the biggest pickup that Isom made was bringing in slugger Justin Garcia, who ranked second in home runs (23) and RBIs (75) during Saturday’s action.
“You always have to have a good surprise, and Justin has had a heck of a season for us,” Isom said. “I wrote him in as my vote for the league MVP since if we didn’t have him, it would have been a different story. But I know that he’s the MVP of our club. He didn’t play last season and was begging me for an opportunity to play. Then he’s taken advantage of every opportunity and we definitely wouldn’t be in this position without him.”