EVERETT — The biggest challenge for the Everett AquaSox heading into Wednesday’s postseason opener against the Spokane Indians is simple: just keep doing what they’ve been doing.
“I think that we should play the way that we’ve been playing this season, especially during the second half,” said infielder Bryson Brigman, whose walk-off single gave Everett a 6-5 regular-season-ending victory over Spokane on Monday. “We don’t need to change too much and make it too big of a moment. It’s another game and another chance to go out there and get a win.”
The AquaSox finished with the best second-half record in the league at 27-11 and boasted the second-best overall record at 45-31. They were the only North Division team to finish the regular season with a record better than .500.
Spokane (19-19 first half, 32-43 overall) visits Everett Memorial Stadium again at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday for the series opener with games two and three scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Spokane’s Avista Stadium. Eugene (26-12, 45-31) takes on Hillsboro (23-14, 42-33) in the South Division series.
The AquaSox pulled away from the rest of the division with a mid-August stretch that featured 10 wins in 11 contests including taking four of five from South Division-leading Eugene on the road. Everett sewed up a playoff berth back on Aug. 26 and has successfully maintained its competitiveness through the remainder of the regular season.
“I’ve had teams in the past where I thought that might be a challenge, but not this year’s team,” Everett manager Rob Mummau said. “These guys got after it. I just preached, ‘Hey these games do matter.’ Maybe we have it locked up but each game does matter.”
The Sox led the league in nearly every offensive category, and had three postseason All-Stars in third baseman Nick Zammarelli, first baseman Kristian Brito and outfielder Eric Filia, who was also the league’s batting champion and Most Valuable Player. But it was the pitching in the second half of the season that propelled Everett’s run to the playoffs.
Everett hurlers ended up leading the league in WHIP and fewest walks, were second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA.
Brandon Miller (4-2, 2.72 ERA) will start for the AquaSox in the series opener. Miller is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA since starting the NWL-Pioneer League All-Star Game. He will be opposed by Tyler Phillips (4-7, 6.44 ERA). Phillips tossed seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball in a victory the AquaSox on July 31.
Matt Festa (6-2, 3.73) will start for Everett in Game 2 against Spokane’s Kyle Cody (2-5, 5.13). Festa is 5-1 with a 2.79 ERA in his last 10 outings.
Sal Mendez (6-4, 3.75) would take the mound in Game 3 for Spokane against a yet-to-be-determined Everett pitcher.
Mummau said the postseason pitchers will remain on a pitch count, but it wouldn’t be as strict as the regular season.
“We’ll try to get as much out of them (as we can),” Mummau said. “We’re not going to run them out there for 200 pitches, obviously, but we’ll definitely stretch them out as far as we can.”
The AquaSox, who hold an 8-4 mark against Spokane this season, last won the NWL title in 2010.
Winning in the minor leagues is sometimes seen as taking a back seat to the development of players, but the Seattle Mariners organization under general manager Jerry DiPoto and farm director Andy McKay has emphasized winning to all its minor-league affiliates.
“It’s something we preach from day one,” Mummau said. “Yes, we are here to make you guys better, and they’re here to get better, but you also want to mix in winning. That’s very important too. You’ve got to learn how to win. You can’t just sandbag all these games in the minor leagues and expect to win at the big-league level. The guys have done a good job of that.”
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