During a nine-game trip, the team lived up to its nickname.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- Put football season aside, only for the short term. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are back in town.
Where have they been, anyway?
A season-long nine-game road trip took the Scrappers over New York-Penn League highways, which included stops in Jamestown, N.Y.; Williamsport, Pa.; and Batavia, N.Y.
At stake was the league's final playoff berth, and the Scrappers' chances to qualify seemed slim, especially with the way they departed from Eastwood Field.
On Aug. 26, Mahoning Valley self-destructed late against Aberdeen, losing a 6-1 lead and ultimately the game.
In the clubhouse afterward, Scrappers manager Mike Sarbaugh questioned the state of his club.
"We'll find out in the next couple of days what we're made of," he said.
Nine days later, what they found was an extension to their season.
At 7:05 tonight at Eastwood Field, the Scrappers (42-34) play host to Pinckney Division champion Auburn (50-24) in the best-of-3 semifinal championship series opener.
Before the Scrappers left on their road trip, Sarbaugh was asked how his players have put themselves into postseason contention.
"No matter what, every day they came trying to get better," the manager said. "That just helps the team, and that's all you can ask."
Mahoning Valley secured the playoff bid -- its first since the 2000 season -- by winning seven of its final nine road games.
The Scrappers beat out Hudson Valley and New Jersey for the final spot on Saturday night by completing a three-game sweep of Batavia with a 7-1 win.
Mahoning Valley will join Auburn, McNamara Division champion Brooklyn (43-31) and Stedler Division champion Tri-City (50-25) in a four-team race for the league championship.
For their late-season rally, the Scrappers earned a match-up against division rival Auburn, which carries the league's best record. The Doubledays also carry an 11-4 mark against Mahoning Valley this season.
However, Auburn's definitive edge over the Scrappers may not mean as much in a best-of-3 series. The hottest team at the time gains the advantage.
After tonight's opening game at Eastwood Field, the series shifts 305 miles to the east -- in Auburn, N.Y., for Game 2 on Tuesday and Game 3, if necessary, on Wednesday.