Most of the Wingnuts players found out right after the final out of their 4-2 win over El Paso in Sunday's season finale at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Manager Kevin Hooper apparently needed a few minutes to brace himself for the truth about what he was probably already at least 95 percent sure of.
"Did Sioux Falls win?" Hooper asked.
Sioux Falls did win, and it kept the Wingnuts out of the playoffs, where they would have made their second straight appearance. Wichita needed a win, which it took care of, and a Sioux Falls loss to St. Paul.
The Pheasants' win gave them the second-half title in the American Association North. Since Sioux Falls also won the first half, the other playoff spot went to the team with the second-best overall record. That was Lincoln, which finished off a three-game sweep of Sioux City on Sunday.
The Wingnuts missed the second-half title and the wild card spot by one game. Their game and Sioux Falls' game ended at almost the exact same time.
"It's just tough relying on someone else to lose, as opposed to us just winning," Hooper said. "We had a good second half, and you can look back at baseball at anytime and say, 'What if, what if, what if.' "
The biggest 'What if' is Friday's game against El Paso, which entered the series with an 11-34 second-half record and the league's worst pitching staff and defense. The Wingnuts, needing to win one more game than Sioux Falls did over the weekend, had a lackluster showing in losing the series opener 10-4.
Sioux Falls lost to St. Paul on Saturday, and if the Wingnuts had won on Friday, they would have controlled their own fate and only needed a win Sunday to make the postseason.
Even though that turned out to be the most important game of the season, the Wingnuts said they could have pointed to any of the 17 other second-half losses as the one that kept them from extending the campaign.
"We don't look at it like we should have won Friday night," starting pitcher Adam Cowart said. "There was many other games we should have won. In the first half we scuffled a little bit, but you have to look at the whole big picture. You can't just look at one game."
It's difficult not to look at Sunday's game as part of that big picture, but Cowart had his second straight solid start, and it would have been even more encouraging had the Wingnuts entered the postseason with Cowart near the top of the rotation.
Six days after pitching seven scoreless innings at Fort Worth, Cowart matched that start's length while allowing one earned run.
Leadoff hitters gave Cowart the most trouble, as the opening batters in the second, fourth and fifth innings all hit doubles. Two scored — one with the aid of Cowart's throwing error — but Cowart only allowed one other combined hit in those innings, an RBI single by Jeff Vincent in the fifth.
Cowart recorded five strikeouts and 11 groundball outs.
"When I'm getting a lot of groundballs, I know my stuff is working really well," Cowart said. "I struggled a little bit in the first half too, and I think the last half I got a lot better and more consistent, and I think I finished strong."
A night after scoring 16 runs, the Wingnuts managed enough against Amad Stephens. The former Wichita reliever was made a starter by El Paso even though he only started one game in his career before this season and none since 2005.
The Wingnuts never trailed. Michael Bell broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer to left, and after El Paso made it 3-2 in the top of the fifth, Jorge Cortes hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
Last season, the Wingnuts lost the last game of the season but still celebrated because their first-half title sent them to the playoffs. This season brought the reversal of that scenario.
"It was in the back of my mind that we had to control what we could control and just pray for the best," Bell said. "It's a shame that this team is not going to the playoffs right now. We would have had a legit shot for a ring."
Vincent cf5021Patterson cf3210
Ponce ss5010Suarez 2b4000
Santana rf5120Cortes rf3022
Nichols dh3010Rivera c4000
Smith 1b4020Gonzalez lf4010
Reininger 3b4000Delgado dh3110
Hulett 2b4000Bell 3b3132
Deleo c4110Christy c3000
Reynoso lf4010Horn ss4000
El Paso000 110 000—2 Wichita001 210 00x—4
E — Rivera, Cowart 2. DP — Wichita. LOB — El Paso 10, Wichita 8. 2B — Santana (19), Nichols (21), Deleo (9), Patterson (24). HR — Bell (4). SF — Cortes. SB — Cortes (6).
HBP — Delgado, Bell (by Estrada). T — 2:41. A — 3,658.