D-days can Clinch Tonight

By Matt Becker / Staff Writer

AUBURN – The Auburn Doubledays are so close to winning the Pinckney Division title. The Doubledays won their third straight, as Ramon Mora and Justin Maureau teamed up on a two-hitter, in a 3-0 victory over the Batavia Muckdogs before 1,288 at Falcon Park on Tuesday night. It was the second straight game that Batavia could only manage two hits against Auburn.

Mahoning Valley, which started the night tied with Auburn for the Pinckney Division lead at 45-29, lost 10-8 at home to Jamestown in 10 innings. Auburn can clinch its first Pinckney Division crown since 1998 with a win tonight at Batavia or another Mahoning Valley loss to Jamestown. Brandon League (7-2) starts tonight for Auburn.

The pennant race has come down to the regular season's final day. "The games are definitely a little more intense," Auburn's Ernie Durazo said. "But as a baseball player, you have to learn to deal with the pressure of the game. If you feel pressure, you're not going to be successful." If Auburn lost and Mahoning Valley won, the teams would have a playoff 7 p.m. Thursday at Falcon Park. The winner would host Oneonta in the first round of the New York-Penn League playoffs on Friday and play Game 2 at Oneonta on Saturday. Game 3, if needed, would be at Oneonta on Sunday. Doubledays' manager Dennis Holmberg admitted to a certain amount of pride in the team's accomplishments.

"These are a bunch of young guys who have really gone through a lot to get here," he said. "I'm really happy with how they've grown together as a team." In all, the Doubledays only totaled four hits, but were able to capitalize on the sloppy play of the Muckdogs to score three unearned runs. Mora picked up where Vince Perkins left off the night before. Mora (2-1) hurled 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball with five strikeouts. Perkins only allowed the Muckdogs one hit in the same amount of innings on Monday. And just like the night before, the Auburn bullpen was flawless as Maureau closed it out with 2 2/3 innings of no-hit, one walk ball to earn his eighth save of the season.

Maureau, who has anchored the team's bullpen, showed no concern over his team's lack of offense. "We have one of the top offenses in the league," he said. "And we do a good job of picking each other up. If the hitters aren't swinging the bats well, then the pitchers have to step up their game, and vice versa." Batavia showed glimpses of pressure Tuesday night - or maybe more accurately, fatigue. The Muckdogs entered the game with a record of 34-40, with nothing to do but play the role of spoiler for the Doubledays' postseason hopes.

But even that can get tiring after awhile, especially for a team who has lost 10 of 15 games to Auburn this season. Holmberg noted that baseball can be a relatively simple game, using the combination of pitching, defense and timely hitting to get a win. The Doubledays showed a mastery of the first two objectives and slight hints of the third en route to the victory over the Muckdogs.

While their hitting is still not at the level he would like it to be, Holmberg emphasized the importance of the remaining factors, especially pitching. "The game starts with pitching and defense," he said. "Really the last thing you want to do is to get into a shoot out with another team because then your starter gets pulled early and your bullpen can get overworked."

The Doubledays did not get on the board until the fifth when a Scott Dragicivich infield pop up was dropped by Carlos Rodriguez. Hustling all the way, Dragicivich found himself on second at the end of the play. After moving to third on a Robby Read wild pitch, Dragicivich found his way home on a Jason Waugh single to right, giving the Doubledays a 1-0 lead. While not necessarily a game-breaker, the Rodriguez error was a sign of things to come. In the next inning, Brad Hassey and Paul Richmond worked back-to-back one-out walks. Durazo followed with a sharp grounder to first base. Rob Cafeiro tried to turn the 3-6-3 double play, but ended up throwing the ball into short left field. The error allowed Hassey to score and Richmond to reach second.

Perhaps haunted by his errant throw, Cafeiro booted another grounder, this one hit by Justin Owens. Richmond came around to score on the play and Durazo motored around the bases, stopping at third. The Muckdogs were spared any further embarrassment when Read induced the 6-4-3 double play from Dragicivich. The Doubledays threatened once more in the seventh when they loaded the bases with no one out. A Willie Rivera pop out to short left field and consecutive strikeouts by Hassey and Richmond prevented Auburn from padding its lead.

"We had some trouble with guys in scoring position and guys on third with less than two outs tonight," Holmberg said. "I'm not going to go and point fingers because its everyone's job to pick up everyone else."

One more win and he can he point his index finger - as in No. 1.

www.auburnpub.com – 3 September 2002

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