Pick a statistic, and it’s likely the Wingnuts need one more to satisfy a historical milestone.
One more home run will give first baseman C.J. Ziegler 28 and the American Association single-season record, though Sioux Falls’ Tim Pahuta is on Ziegler’s heels with 26.
Another win for the Wingnuts would establish a franchise record, besting the 60 wins they notched in 2012 on the way to an appearance in the league championship series.
That win would also clinch the Central Division championship, Wichita’s avenue to a fourth playoff appearance in manager Kevin Hooper’s fifth season. The Wingnuts earned a postseason bid by beating Gary SouthShore on the road Thursday afternoon, assuring themselves of at least a wild-card spot.
It may not be the most urgent unfinished business since the Wingnuts have 10 games to accomplish those feats, but Hooper and the players operate under “the sooner, the better” philosophy.
“We’re trying to finish this thing out as soon as possible,” Hooper said about the prospect of clinching the division. “As I keep mentioning, we’re ready to finish this deal, but there’s nothing sealed up. Until we seal this thing up, nothing is over, and I’m ready to do that immediately.”
After being swept in a doubleheader by second-place Gary on Tuesday, the Wingnuts responded to their manager’s insistence the next two days, all but eliminating Gary from the division race with an 18-5 win on Wednesday followed by a 5-4 victory Thursday afternoon in which they scored three runs in the ninth.
Wednesday’s win was the highlight of the crucial series and of the Wingnuts last two weeks. Following an eight-day stretch starting July 31 in which they scored nine-plus runs five times, the Wingnuts broke out of a skid that saw them top five runs once in 12 games.
“Hopefully that’s going to get us back on track,” Hooper said. “We needed an offensive night like that. It’s been about another week where we’ve just been OK, average-wise, offensively. The funny thing is, that (18 runs) is what we’re capable of doing every single night out.”
Ziegler tied the league home run record Wednesday while hitting for the franchise’s first cycle, and Wichita scored its most runs since a 20-6 thrashing of Laredo on June 24.
“Just one of those nights, everything falls for you,” Ziegler said of Wednesday night. “Can’t do it without the guys around me giving me extra at-bats. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.”
The wins over their closest competitor seem to indicate that Hooper’s message about remaining focused even with a playoff bid wrapped up has reached the players. The most important thing for Hooper is that they continue to apply it, rather than relying solely on the ability that has contributed to their 60 wins.
“That’s what upsets me so much as a manager, knowing the talent we have in the clubhouse,” Hooper said. “There’s nights where I feel like we just show up and think our talent is going to overcome.”
|Khoury ss||4||1||1||0||Klein lf||5||1||2||0|
|Kahaullio 2b||4||1||1||1||Massaro rf||4||1||2||0|
|Rodriguez dh||5||1||2||3||Kolb 3b||4||0||2||0|
|Ziegler 1b||5||0||2||1||Babineau c||3||1||0||0|
|Clevlen cf||3||0||0||0||Guerrero dh||4||1||1||1|
|Nieves 3b||3||0||1||0||Pulfer 1b||3||0||1||1|
|Bowden c||3||0||1||0||Vitters 1b||2||0||0||0|
|Armstrong c||1||0||0||0||Martinez cf||5||0||0||0|
|Amberson rf||3||1||0||0||Brockett ss||4||0||1||2|
|McDonald lf||4||1||1||0||Liles 2b||3||0||0||0|
E — Kahaulelio (4). LOB — Wihcita 9, Gary 12. 2B — Kahaulelio (19), Ziegler (29), Klein (20). SB — Massaro (11). CS — Rodriguez (2).
|Walters W,6-1||1 1/3||0||0||0||1||1|
HBP — Kahaulelio (by Spottiswood). Umpires—Home, Anthony Sheets; first, Joe Stegner; third, Steve Linton.
T — 3:00. A — 1,818.