AVON — It was a heck of a run.
Unfortunately for the Lake Erie Crushers, they didn’t control their own destiny, so even a dominating performance in the regular-season finale wasn’t enough to keep their season going.
The Crushers dominated the Washington Wild Things in all facets Sunday, winning 10-2 in front of 1,544 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium and putting the finishing touches on a 48-48 season and a 15-5 spurt to end the year.
However, roughly an hour after Sunday’s game ended, the Crushers learned they did not earn a spot in the Frontier League playoffs.
The River City Rascals (49-47), who had lost five consecutive games, snapped that losing streak with a 5-1 win over Southern Illinois to finish one game ahead of the Crushers in the standings and clinch the fourth and final playoff spot.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of these guys just going through what they went through this season to get to this point,” Crushers manager Cameron Roth said.
“These guys didn’t give up on that the whole time, and that’s something, even after winning two championships in Schaumburg, that I’ve never seen in a team. I call these guys dirt bags and that’s what they are, but they also have to be good at baseball to do what they’ve done.”
The Crushers were 33-43 and seven games out of the wild card on Aug. 12. They reeled off 15 wins in their last 20 games after that to get back in the playoff picture. Not bad for a team that changed managers a month into the season and underwent massive roster turnover.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re a bunch of guys who played with a chip on their shoulders if they’re not good,” Roth said. “They worked hard to get good, and that says a lot about them and the trust that we were able to collaborate in them. We made a lot of moves early, and guys were probably a little skeptical of us — they didn’t know what was going on.
“As our season went on, we got to them and they became comfortable, and that speaks volumes for their characters and their personalities. These guys are dirt bags, gamers and grinders who have been told no so many times that they basically gave (baseball) the bird and said, ‘No, I’m gonna keep doing this.”
Starting pitcher Juan Caballero (5-1), who won his final five starts, scattered four hits and two earned runs in seven innings, striking out five and walking two.
“My goal was to pitch nine innings today,” Caballero said. “I knew our bullpen was kind of tired and I knew what was at stake in this game. I thought it was a good idea to try to pitch as long as I could. My teammates did an outstanding job today. They hit a lot today and put up a lot of runs that made my job a lot easier.
“We took it game-by-game and just tried to win it one-by-one. We knew the only thing we could control was the game in front of us. We kept that mentality and chipped away at it and now here we are.”
The Crushers got on the board in the first on a ground-rule double from Jose Barraza, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles and a run. They took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth with two runs to answer Washington’s two in the top of the inning.
Parker Norris led off the inning with a solo home run — his second of the season — to tie the game at 2. Bryan De La Rosa followed with a triple down the right-field line, and he scored on a double-play grounder to make it 3-2.
From there, the floodgates opened for Lake Erie, which scored one in the fifth, two in the sixth and four in the eighth to put the game away. Eight of the nine hitters had at least one hit, and they went 14-for-33 (.424) for the game.
The Crushers got no love when the Frontier League’s annual postseason all-star team and awards were released Thursday. No players were named to the All-Star team and no players, coaches or front office personnel were given any of the awards, which were voted on by coaches, managers, front office members and media members throughout the league.
Ex-Crushers manager Jeff Isom, now managing the Joliet Slammers, was named Manager of the Year, and current Cleveland Indians farmhand Trever Foss, on the ballot as a member of the Washington Wild Things, was the lone starting pitcher named to the All-Star team.
Other winners included Evansville’s Josh Allen as Most Valuable Player, Joliet’s Liam O’Sullivan as Most Valuable Pitcher, Southern Illinois’ Shane Kennedy as Rookie of the Year and River City’s Nick Kennedy as the Fran Riordan Citizenship Award winner.