WILD CARD PLAYOFF TONIGHT
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WILD CARD PLAYOFF TONIGHT

  The season stretched over more than three months. There were perfect baseball nights under bright full moons and there were miserable, nasty nights with cold drizzle blowing in when you were up and blowing out when you were in the field. There were all those bus rides. Thousands of miles of bus rides. All those games, all those innings, all those balls, all those strikes.

     The end result? A tie. A dead tie. The odds were highly against it, but there it was: a tie. It took all kinds of freaky occurrences and wild coincidences, but the Jackals and the Quebec Capitales ended the regular season with identical 60-35 records – tied for first place in the Frontier League’s East Division.

     Head-to-head record was the tie breaker and that went to Quebec, which won six of the nine games between the two teams this year. So, Quebec is No. 1 and New Jersey is No. 2 and the Jackals must now face the No. 3 Sussex County Miners in a one-game wild card playoff game tonight at Skylands Stadium. Tonight’s losing team goes home. Tonight’s winner moves on to face Quebec in a best-of-three series for the East Division pennant and the right to play the West Division winner for the ultimate league championship.

     The Jackals played the Miners nine times this year and won seven of those games, splitting two games in May, sweeping a three-game series in July and taking three of four in August. New Jersey smacked 19 home runs in those nine games and finished the season leading the entire league in home runs, batting average, runs, hits, RBI, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

     But, beware: The Miners had the best pitching staff in the league with the best team ERA and yielding the fewest hits and the fewest runs in the league. And, tonight’s starting pitcher for Sussex has had some success against the Jackals this year. That’s 6-foot-4, 275-pound righty Tyler Thornton, who gave up one run in four innings in his second outing of the season on May 19, then yielded no runs over six innings in earning the win over Jersey on Aug. 2.

     Jackals manager PJ Phillips has not announced his starter for tonight, but it could be Jorge Tavarez (6-1, 2.25 ERA) whose most recent effort was last Wednesday, when he gave up one run in six innings to earn the 2-1 win over the Empire State Greys. In his only matchup with Sussex this year, Tavarez pitched a seven-inning complete game one-hit 1-0 victory in the first game of a doubleheader sweep, striking out eight and walking none.

     LEAGUE HONORS: Four Jackals players were named over the weekend to the 2023 All-Frontier League Team, led by third baseman James Nelson, who was recognized with the Morgan Burkhart MVP Award. The 25-year-old third baseman finished the regular season with a league-leading .388 batting average. He also tied for the league lead with 30 home runs, the same as teammate Keon Barnum (.316), who joined him on the All-League team at DH. Also named to the team were outfielder Josh Rehwaldt (.315, 29 home runs, 90 RBI and the only player to appear in all 95 games) and catcher Rusber Estrada (.308). A strong case could also have been made for outfielder Alfredo Marte, who hit .311 in 94 games with 21 homers and 90 RBI.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.