Loons seal first Midwest League title in wild finale

Great Lakes topples Clinton in four games to capture championship

Loons seal first Midwest League title in wild finale

The Class A Great Lakes Loons claimed their first Midwest League title on Sunday, defeating Clinton, 9-8, in Game 4 of the best-of-five series.

The Loons used a five-run sixth inning to power past the LumberKings in a game that featured four lead changes and a benches-clearing incident.

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Mariners No. 6 prospect Alex Jackson was the only Midwest League hitter to take Great Lakes starter Yadier Alvarez (Dodgers' No. 5) deep during the regular season and he repeated the feat on Sunday, hitting a towering blast to straightaway left field to open the second inning and give Clinton a 1-0 lead. The LumberKings' offense didn't stop there, as they would push across two more runs in the frame on second baseman Chris Mariscal's two-out double.

Great Lakes responded with three runs in the bottom of the second to tie the game, 3-3. Logan Landon led off with a single, advanced to second when DJ Peters took a pitch to the helmet and then came around to score the Loons' first run on Jake Henson's one-out double. After a mound visit from the LumberKings' pitching coach, Matt Jones delivered a two-run single to center field.

Box score

Emotions ran high in the bottom of the third inning when the benches cleared after Clinton starter Nick Neidert hit Brendon Davis above the shoulders. No ejections resulted from the near skirmish, although warnings were issued to both clubs.

Great Lakes leadoff man Saige Jenco gave the Loons their first lead in the fourth inning with an RBI single, but Clinton quickly tied it up with Dalton Kelly's solo home run to open the fifth.

In the sixth, Mariscal put the LumberKings ahead with a two-run homer to the opposite field, and Luis Liberato extended the lead, 7-4, when he scored on a wild pitch.

But Great Lakes responded once again in the bottom half of the inning, this time scoring five times while sending nine hitters to the plate. The Loons plated one run on one hit and three walks against right-hander Matt Walker before making an out, and Jenco pushed across another run by coaxing a walk against reliever Joey Strain. Davis, the Dodgers' No. 18 prospect, followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly to center field to set the stage for Landon, who connected on a go-ahead, two-run double to left field.

Clinton trimmed the deficit to one run on a Liberato sacrifice fly in the seventh, but left the bases loaded to squander a potentially game-changing scoring opportunity.

Right-hander Dean Kremer kept the LumberKings' offense in check the rest of the way, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball to notch the save and secure the MWL championship.

Game 4 had all the makings of a pitchers' duel on paper, as neither Alvarez nor Neidert had allowed a run in their two respective postseason starts entering the day. However, both hurlers failed to work deep into the game, with Alvarez completing three-plus innings and Neidert 3 2/3.

Alvarez, who was expected to be limited to either 75 pitches or five innings, struggled with his control, allowing three earned runs on four hits and three walks before departing after 71 pitches (40 strikes). The 20-year-old right-hander recorded five strikeouts and sat in the upper 90s with his fastball.

As for Neidert, the Mariners' No. 4 prospect was unable to put a bow on an outstanding postseason campaign, during which he tossed seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in back-to-back starts. The 19-year-old right-hander yielded four earned runs on five hits against the Loons, with three strikeouts, two walks and two hit batsmen.

The Loons won 18 of their final 26 regular-season games to secure a spot in the postseason, finishing with an overall record of 65-75. They knocked off Bowling Green in the opening round and West Michigan in the semifinals in a best-of-three series before becoming the first Midwest League team since 2004 to win the title with a losing regular-season record.

Jones paced Great Lakes' offense by going 4-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs, and he led all Loons hitters in the postseason with a .389 average. Hensen, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored, batted .379 in the playoffs, while Landon finished at a .351 clip thanks to a 2-for-3, two-RBI effort on Sunday.

Dodgers No. 12 prospect Omar Estevez, 18, set a franchise-record with nine RBIs in the postseason, and he did so while batting .302 with four extra-base hits. Right behind him was the 19-year-old Davis, who hit .286 with eight RBIs and scored eight runs.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.