DURHAM, NC – When the 2013 postseason begins tomorrow night, three teams will begin their quest for their first American Association championship, while the fourth will try to duplicate its title run from 2011. The semifinals matchups feature the Wichita Wingnuts vs. the Grand Prairie AirHogs and the Gary SouthShore RailCats vs. the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Grand Prairie is the only of the four competing teams to claim an American Association championship. In 2011, manager Ricky Van Asselberg led the AirHogs to the best record in the league at 64-36 and marched into the playoffs. Grand Prairie knocked off Wichita 3-1 in the semifinals and defeated St. Paul 3-2 for the championship. The AirHogs failed to make the playoffs last season, but clinched the South Division championship on the last day of the 2013 campaign with a 54-46 record.
Wichita will look for revenge from its 2011 defeat when it travels to Grand Prairie tomorrow, but the desire for a championship might be even greater considering how close the Wingnuts came in 2012. Last postseason, the Wingnuts vanquished Laredo in the semifinals in three straight games. Wichita, however, was swept in the finals by Winnipeg. Kevin Hooper has led Wichita to three playoff appearances in four seasons as manager, but this year he might have his best shot at a title. The Wingnuts broke the American Association wins record with a 68-32 record to climb to the Central Division championship. They also boast a league-best five All-Stars, including the new single-season home run champion, C.J. Ziegler, who clubbed 30 homers in 2013.
Fargo-Moorhead may have fallen just short of its remarkable 65-win season from a year ago, but the RedHawks still had a stranglehold on the North Division. Doug Simunic’s club finished the season 62-38 with a rotation led by Pitcher of the Year Taylor Stanton. The American Association ERA leader, who finished the season with a 2.42 mark and a 9-4 record, will take the ball in game one when the RedHawks host Gary SouthShore. Stanton and the RedHawks will be gunning for the club’s first American Association title, but Fargo-Moorhead has captured five independent league championships in the Northern League. Last season was Fargo-Moorhead’s first American Association playoff appearance and the RedHawks were ousted in the semifinals by the eventual league champions, Winnipeg.
Gary SouthShore makes its American Association postseason debut tomorrow night in Fargo-Moorhead. The RailCats finished the regular season with a 58-41 record under manager Greg Tagert to capture the Wild Card. Tagert’s club finished the season on a strong note with eight wins in its last 10 games and will send the American Association wins leader to the mound for game one of the semifinals. Left-hander Alain Quijano finished the season 12-7 and will try to get the RailCats off to a strong start. Like their opponents in Fargo-Moorhead, Gary SouthShore does not have any American Association titles, but has won independent league championships in the Northern League. The RailCats won Northern League titles in 2005 and 2007.
Semifinals Schedule and Probable Starters:
Wichita vs. Grand Prairie
Wednesday, September 4: Game 1 – Wichita (RHP Junior Guerra) at Grand Prairie (RHP Aaron Wilkerson), 7:05 p.m.
Thursday, September 5: Game 2 – Wichita (RHP Chris Smith) at Grand Prairie (RHP Josh Strawn), 7:05 p.m.
Friday, September 6: Game 3 – Grand Prairie (RHP Derek Blacksher) at Wichita (LHP Anthony Capra), 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, September 7: Game 4 (If Necessary) – Grand Prairie (TBA) at Wichita (TBA), 7:05 p.m.
Sunday, September 8: Game 5 (If Necessary) – Grand Prairie (RHP Aaron Wilkerson) at Wichita (RHP Junior Guerra), 7:05 p.m.
Gary SouthShore vs. Fargo-Moorhead
Wednesday, September 4: Game 1 – Gary SouthShore (LHP Alain Quijano) at Fargo-Moorhead (RHP Taylor Stanton), 7:02 p.m.
Thursday, September 5: Game 2 – Gary SouthShore (RHP Stephen Hiscock) at Fargo-Moorhead (RHP Alex Caldera), 7:02 p.m.
Friday, September 6: Game 3 – Fargo-Moorhead (RHP Brian Ernst) at Gary SouthShore (RHP Billy Spottiswood), 7:10 p.m.
Saturday, September 7: Game 4 (If Necessary) – Fargo-Moorhead (LHP Jake Laber) at Gary SouthShore (RHP Morgan Coombs), 6:10 p.m.
Sunday, September 8: Game 5 (If Necessary) – Fargo-Moorhead (RHP Taylor Stanton) at Gary SouthShore (LHP Alain Quijano), 2:10 p.m.