LKings playoffs.jpg

Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca and Ramon Morla (left) celebrate after the LumberKings’ 7-6 Game 1 win over Quad Cities on Monday. The win in the first game of the doubleheader, which Clinton swept, clinched a berth in the postseason for the LumberKings.

Clinton clinched a playoff berth Monday night, but manager Eddie Menchaca made it clear there was work left to do.

“We passed the first test, which is getting in the playoffs,” Menchaca said after the LumberKings swept a Midwest League doubleheader from Quad Cities. “Next is winning the division, and ultimately the goal is to hold the championship trophy in our hands.

“We’re still not done. But all the hard work we put in and what we went through made us stronger as a team.”

The LumberKings (41-22) won Game 1 of the doubleheader 7-6 to earn a spot in the playoffs. Clinton followed that with a 10-1 win, which coupled with a Burlington loss, put Clinton’s magic number at one to win the Western Division in the second half. This is a drastic change for the LumberKings, who had the worst first-half record at 23-45.

“It’s been a long journey,” Clinton infielder Dan Paolini said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s nice to see it all come together, individually and as a team. Now we’re one game away from celebrating the Western Division championship.”

Paolini provided a lot of the impetus behind Clinton’s offensive explosion. After falling behind 5-0 in the second inning of Game 1, the LumberKings came back in a hurry.

Jharmidy De Jesus knocked in Kevin Rivers with a double in the bottom of the inning. Then Dillon Hazlett doubled to score Mike Dowd and De Jesus. After Jamal Austin drew a walk, Paolini stepped to the plate with the LumberKings trailing 5-3. He knocked the ball over the fence in left field for a three-run home run.

“The first home run barely got over the fence; I got a little jammed on it,” Paolini said. “We were coming back after they put up five runs. We were playing bad defense. I wanted to see a pitch early, and I got a fastball middle-in. I turned on it and luckily got enough to get it over the fence.”

Clinton added an insurance run in the third, which it needed because the River Bandits got a solo home run from Stephen Piscotty in the top of the sixth.

Stephen Shackleford got the final four outs for Clinton to get his 10th save of the season and send the LumberKings into the postseason.

“It’s a good feeling,” Menchaca said. “We went through some adversity at the beginning of the year, and we overcame that. We put ourselves in a situation to be in the playoffs and win the second half. Hopefully, we’ll go in there with momentum. There’s still a lot to go.”

Between games, Paolini said the team had plenty of adrenaline and would not let down in Game 2 after qualifying for the postseason. They didn’t, but Quad Cities once again scored first.

Anthony Melchionda hit a solo home run in the top of the second to put the River Bandits ahead. Ramon Morla countered for the River Kings with a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the second.

After an out, Jabari Blash doubled. Then De Jesus hit an RBI triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by David Villasuso to put Clinton ahead 3-1. The LumberKings’ pitching staff cruised from there, allowing only one runner to reach second and none to reach third over the final five innings.

In Paolini’s next at-bat, Quad Cities pitched to him differently, but that wasn’t effective, either.

“The rest of the day, they started working away to me,” Paolini said. “That’s why I got that double to right-center.”

Paolini’s double didn’t account for any runs, but the next time he came to plate he did.

Bryan Brito and Austin hit back-to-back singles to start the fifth inning, then Paolini hit his second three-run homer of the night. This time it was a blast over the fence in left-center.

“On the home run, the kid make a mistake and left the ball up,” Paolini said. “I put a good swing on it.”

Paolini went 4 for 6 with two three-run home runs, two doubles and two walks in the doubleheader.

“There was no question about it from spring training that he would be able to hit,” Clinton hitting coach Tommy Cruz said of Paolini. “We worked on driving the ball to the gaps. ... Something clicked, and now he’s driving the ball all over the place. He looks really comfortable at the plate.”

Since the beginning of July (46 games), Paolini is batting .328 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs. Paolini has 16 home runs on the season.

“I guess I’m just starting to get a feel for the pitching in this league,” Paolini said. “It took me a little longer than I wanted it to. I’m seeing some good pitches and being disciplined at the plate. I’m attacking the good pitches because you can’t let those go by. Sometimes I’m too patient, sometimes too aggressive, but I feel like I’m finding a good balance now.”

As a team, the LumberKings have climbed from the worst hitting team at the midway point to the fifth-best hitting team.

“It’s hard work and dedication from the kids,” Cruz said. “They come in day in, day out and spend a lot of time in the cages. It paid off. I’m very proud of the kids right now.

“Minimize mistakes, that’s what we’re doing and why we’re looking so good. We look like a team. Offensively, we are like the New York Yankees right now, outstanding.”

Clinton struck again in the sixth inning. Paolini doubled with Austin moving to third on the play. Ji-Man Choi followed with a two-run double to give the LumberKings 10 runs.

“Hitting is contagious,” Paolini said. “Everyone vibes off one another. Then you feel like you can get a hit. You feed off everyone’s adrenaline. Everybody is having fun and the game all comes together.”

With one win in their next seven games, the LumberKings would clinch the division title and would have the winningest half in LumberKings history. The record of 41 is shared by the current team, the 1999, 2007 and 2008 squads. The franchise record for Clinton (44) is still in reach, something that didn’t seem likely after the first half of the season.

“We didn’t want that feeling of losing every day,” Paolini said. “Even though we lost a lot of games in the first half, it was a lot of close games. We couldn’t get over the hump. We had a sour taste in our stomachs. We came back after the All-Star break with a goal, with a vision.”



Quad Cities    ab    r    h    bi    Clinton    ab    r    h    bi

Walton rf    4    0    0    0    Hazlett 2b    4    1    2    2

Martini cf    4    0    1    2    Austin cf    3    1    1    0    

Walsh 2b    3    0    0    0    Paolini dh    2    1    1    3    

Piscotty dh    3    2    2    1    Morla 3b    4    0    2    0

Melchionda 3b    3    1    1    0    Rivers rf    3    1    0    0

Castillo c    3    1    1    0    Dowd c    2    1    0    0

Williams ss    3    1    1    0    Pimentel lf    2    1    1    0

Medina 1b    3    1    0    1    De Jesus 1b    3    1    3    1

Apelian lf    3    0    0    0    Brady ss    2    0    0    0

Totals    29    6    6    4    Totals    25    7    10    6

Quad Cities    050    001    0    —    6

Clinton    061    000    x    —    7

E — Melchionda (3), Morla (34), Hazlett (11). DP — Quad Cities 4. LOB — Quad Cities 2, Clinton 7. 2B — Martini (22), De Jesus (15), Hazlett (18). 3B — Hazlett (3). HR — Piscotty (4), Paolini (15).

 Quad Cities

        IP    H    R    ER    BB    SO

 Quad Cities

Hernandez L, 7-7        4 1/3    9    7    6    5    2

Martinez        1 2/3    1    0    0    0    0


Guaipe W, 5-0        5 2/3    6    6    2    0    4

Shackleford S, 10        1 1/3    0    0    0    0    1

HBP — Rivers (by Hernandez), Pimentel (by Hernandez). U — Jeff Andrews (hp), Ryan Additon (b). T — 1:58.



Quad Cities    ab    r    h    bi    Clinton    ab    r    h    bi

Mateo 2b    3    0    0    0    Austin cf    4    2    1    0

Martini cf    3    0    1    0    Paolini 2b    4    2    3    3    

Walsh lf    3    0    0    0    Choi dh    3    1    1    2    

Piscotty dh    3    0    2    0    Morla 3b    4    2    2    1

Melchionda 3b    3    1    1    1    Pimentel lf    4    0    1    2

Medina 1b    3    0    0    0    Blash rf    3    1    2    0

Williams ss    3    0    1    0    De Jesus 1b    3    1    1    1

Rasmus c    3    0    0    0    Villasuso c    2    0    0    1

Walton rf    2    0    0    0    Brito ss    2    1    1    0

Totals    26    1    5    1    Totals    29    10    12    10

Quad Cities    010    000    0    —    1

Clinton    030    052    x    —    10

E — Medina (14), Dobbs (3). DP — Clinton 1. LOB — Quad Cities 5, Clinton 4. 2B — Piscotty 2 (17), Blash (19), Paolini 2 (26), Morla (26), Pimentel (17), Choi (13). 3B — De Jesus (1). HR — Melchionda (5), Morla (11), Paolini (16).

        IP    H    R    ER    BB    SO

 Quad Cities

Watson L, 3-4        4    10    8    8    1    2

Castillo        2    2    2    2    1    1


Shore        3    2    1    1    1    2

Dobbs W, 4-2        3    2    0    0    0    2

De Jesus        1    1    0    0    0    0

U — Ryan Additon (hp), Jeff Andrews (b). T — 2:00. A — 776.