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PostPosted: Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:04 am 
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Crystal Lake Wins Division and Clinches 1st Seed in SL Playoffs
Updated: October 2, 2029 – 5:45 AM

By Howard Heskin, Gnats Beat Writer and ESPN PEBA Correspondent – Twitter @HowardHeskin1

And like that, with a 7-2 win over Canton on September 26th, the Sandgnats clintched their 15th Great Lakes Division Title, but second in the last 5 seasons. Crystal Lake last won the Great Lakes Division in the 2024 Championship Season. Since then, first Duluth and then Fargo took over as the dominant force in the the Midwest. With some quiet retooling Crystal Lake found a way to compete and overcome Fargo's strong start this season to finish with a record of 105-57. This being the best regular season record since GM RJ Ermola's tenor, will the whispers of "well he's living off the tools Brian Hazelwood gave him" start to fade? After the trade of top Prospect CF Pedro Flores to West Virginia not shaking out as planned and then a slow decline since 2024 and last year's failure to make the playoffs, it was hard to ignore that Ermola was probably not living up to expectations after Hazelwood's departure at the end of the 2023 season. How long will the Dole family continue to accept being number 2?

With Charles "Chuck" Dole IV taking over the ownership reigns this year from his father, he and Ermola hit the reset button and decided on a new collaborative approach. "Well we went to one of those Drew Streets leadership seminars and it really got me fired up." stated Chuck Dole at today's pre-playoff press conference. "Ermola and I have dinner every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I write him a check and tell him to get me the best players who aren't dumb. That's how we did it this season." Ermola noted, "Well we also make sure to talk to Joe Matterson each week and check in on his needs and wants. Joe is a future hall-of-fame coach, plus a lot smarter than me and when he tells us something, we listen."

"We've learned a lot under Joe Matterson's tutelage this year. He's taught us to never be over-confident, and to play every game like a championship game. I think with him and the team we have, we have a great chance to bring a championship back to Crystal Lake", said catcher Tony Parker. Clarence Carpenter also discussed how much Joe Matterson meant to the team this season. "It didn't start pretty. We were deep in a hole to start the season and Joe just kept the ship steady and made sure we focused on the task at hand - one game at a time."

"It's not over for these guys. We will be doing a lot of film this week and preparing for any of the teams we might face next," stated Joe Matterson. "I have high expectations for these guys, but we are under no illusion that it will not be easy in the next round. Each of the teams in the Sovereign League are worthy adversaries. We need to come out and give it our best performance, leaving nothing left on the field when the game is over to give us the best chance to win. That's the only way to do it in this league."

With all of the excitement this week its easy to overlook that only a few months ago, things were not very promising heading into the All-Star Break. We've been trying to pinpoint one moment, move or result that changed direction. One obvious change was the rise of the Sandgnats pitching staff performance after the All-Star Break since the hitting remained just as hot as is was previous. However, on June 25th, the Sandgnats were 10.5 games out of first place behind Fargo - and then - a trade was announced with Canton.

The Gnats had acquired closer Javier 'Random' Jiménez and left-fielder Gabe Moran in exchange for 3rd and 4th round picks, two prospects and right-fielder George Wilson. Jiménez plugged a hole that had been in existence for the last 2 seasons, a legitimate closer. While not at the top of the league, Jiménez improved Crystal Lake's bottom of the barrel closing statistics and earned 17 saves in 21 attempts with a 2.8 FIP improving Crystal Lake's ability to close out games and win a few more one-run games.

Gabe Moran exceeded all expectations and improved the line-up down the row. With Ray Kimball's fading performance at DH. Moran's move to left-field to help sure up the defense, pushed Jorge "don't call me Random" Jiménez to the DH spot, improving all statistics and particularly on-base percentage instantly at a previously unproductive spot against right-handed pitching. But was unexpected was Moran's productivity with his bat. With Canton, Moran was batting a not too shabby .286/.309/.459 with 12 homes runs in 279 at-bats. In 280 at-bats with Crystal Lake to finish the season, Moran batted .321/.347/.540 and 19 home runs! He added in another 20 stolen bases in additional to the extra defensive speed in left field adding in a 4.3 WAR and then replacing Jorge Jiménez's 3.7 WAR with Ray Kimball's -0.4 WAR at DH.

Crystal Lake fans can only hope that this run that started in July with a 20-7 record, continued into August with 20-8 and then finish in September at 19-8 will continue. It's been a wild run so far and let's go Gnats!

RJ Ermola
Vice President and General Manager of Baseball Operations
Crystal Lake Sandgnats

*2024 PEBA Champions*

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