Russell pitches Skeeters to second Atlantic League title
The Sugar Land Skeeters were down to their final chance to close out the second Atlantic League championship in franchise history Sept. 30 at Long Island.
Fortunately for the Skeeters, they had James Russell on the mound.
Russell threw every pitch to bring home their second title in three years, allowing one run on seven hits while striking out five and walking none in a 4-1 victory in the decisive Game 5 of the championship series. The Skeeters won the first two games at home before losses of 3-2 and 6-3 at Long Island.
It was Russell’s third start of the postseason, all resulting in Sugar Land victories. He pitched seven shutout innings against Lancaster in a 3-0 victory in Game 2 of the Freedom Division Championship Series and had another quality start in Game 1 against the Ducks, won 5-4 in the 13th when Tony Thomas scored on Javier Betancourt’s sacrifice fly.
Russell finished with a 1.63 ERA in 22 innings, almost double the workload of any other Skeeters pitcher in the postseason. They also received a complete game in the final series from Konner Wade, who struck out 11 while allowing seven hits without a walk as Sugar Land cruised 10-0 in Game 2.
Fort Bend Austin graduate Barrett Barnes had two of the Skeeters’ 12 hits in the finale, also driving in a sixth-inning run to produce the final margin. Betancourt was 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and a run.
Denis Phipps put Sugar Land on the board with a second-inning home run. Juan Silverio and Matt Chavez both had multi-hit games.
Barnes was one of four Skeeters to hit .300 or better during the postseason, batting .313 with a team-high two home runs, six runs and six walks in 32 at-bats.
Silverio (.326, 9 runs), Chavez (.325, 8 RBI), Anthony Giansanti (.310, 8 runs, 3 stolen bases) and Thomas, who drove in 11 including a walk-off grand slam to win the division series, were among the postseason standouts.
Casey Harman was Sugar Land’s postseason relief ace, striking out 10 and allowing one run in eight innings spanning three games. Michael Mariot, Kraig Sitton, Yasutomo Kubo, Jorge De Leon and former Bulldogs hurler Mark Haynes posted perfect ERAs during the playoffs.
The Skeeters were the top team in the Atlantic League during the regular season with an 81-45 record, seven ahead of division rival Lancaster. Sugar Land won both halves of the Freedom Division race, led by a pitching staff that posted a 3.14 ERA, almost a half run better than the second-ranked team.
Sugar Land made its third Atlantic League Championship Series appearance in five years, including a 2014 loss to Lancaster and a 2016 sweep of Long Island.