Before the 2011 Midwest League season began, Quad-Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez scribbled the words "Be at your best when your best is needed" across a board in the River Bandits clubhouse.
Time faded the words, but those words galvanized a team that played its best baseball when the most was on the line.
Quad-Cities completed a seven-game sweep of postseason games Saturday, winning its first league title since 1990 by finishing a three-game sweep of Lansing in the Midwest League Championship Series with a 6-3 victory at Modern Woodmen Park.
"No matter where this game leads them, these guys will never forget going 7-0 in the playoffs," Rodriguez said. "It just doesn't happen at any level very often, but these guys made it happen. It's something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."
And when left fielder Colin Walsh held on tightly for the final out with the bases filled with Lugnuts, players spilled out of the dugout and bullpen, piling on closer Dean Kiekhefer behind the mound after the left-hander had earned his third save in as many opportunities against Lansing.
The crowd of 2,425 - the second largest to watch a playoff game in the league this year - gave the River Bandits a standing ovation as they watched players share high-fives and hugs before hoisting the championship trophy at home plate, watching a highlight video and eventually retreating to the clubhouse where the spray of champagne capped an 88-win season.
"Lansing is a great-hitting team, but we answered the challenge every single game of this series. When they scored, we scored. That's been this team all season," said Jonathan Rodriguez, whose two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning gave relievers Aiden Lucas and Kiekhefer the cushion they needed to finish off the series.
The Lugnuts, who stranded the tying run on base in each of the three championship series games, loaded them in the ninth as Kiekhefer walked a pair of batters before giving up a single to Jake Marisnick.
Cleanup hitter Marcus Knecht then drove a fly ball to left where Walsh was waiting to secure the championship.
"It's an unbelievable feeling, something you work for all year. The pitchers set the tone, beginning with (Trevor) Rosenthal from the start. It felt good to give us a little insurance," said catcher Geoff Klein, whose two-out homer to right in the sixth extended a 3-1 lead Quad-Cities had maintained since the second inning.
Rosenthal gave up a run in the top of the first inning, but Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras, who joined Klein with two hits apiece, each singled to help the River Bandits quickly regain an edge.
Jonathan Rodriguez tied the game with a run-scoring groundout before Cody Stanley moved Quad-Cities ahead to stay with an RBI single up the middle.
Wong drove home the third run an inning later with a two-out single to left which scored Walsh.
"Everybody had a hand in it, but that is what this team has been doing all year," Johnny Rodriguez said, pointing to hits from seven spots in the lineup and the collection of nine strikeouts gathered by four pitchers in an eight-hit victory.
"We are, in every sense of the word, a championship team."
Quad-Cities 6, Lansing 3
SOLID SIX: Trevor Rosenthal gave the River Bandits a solid start over six-plus innings.
The right-hander limited Lansing to four hits through six innings, striking out nine and walking two before the Lugnuts ended his outing with back-to-back hits by Carlos Perez and Matt Nuzzo to open the seventh.
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Nuzzo doubled home the first of two runs in the inning, which saw Lansing pull to within 4-3 on a pinch-hit groundout by Jonathan Jones.
DOUBLE DIGITS: The River Bandits closed out the season with a 10-hit game, the 18th time in their past 21 games that Quad-Cities had at least 10 hits.
Over the club's past 46 games, the River Bandits had at least seven hits in every game but one, a five-hit effort in a 5-2 loss at Clinton on Aug. 19.
QUOTEBOOK: "From the first day of the season, it has been a group effort from all 25 guys on the roster." - River Bandits manager Johnny Rodriguez
SECOND BEST: Quad-Cities finishes the season with an 88-56 record. Only one team in the history of pro baseball in Davenport won more. The River Bandits finished 91-46 in 1992, but were knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs by Cedar Rapids.
TITLE TOWN: Saturday's win gave Quad-Cities its fifth Midwest League championship in the 52-year history of the franchise, equaling the second most of any club in the league.
Wisconsin, which entered the league as Appleton, has won seven titles, while West Michigan has also earned five championships.
STANDING OVATION: The River Bandits received a standing ovation from the crowd as the entire squad was introduced prior to the start of the game and the singing of the National Anthem by Dani Lynn Howe.
HISTORY LESSON: The championship won by the River Bandits is the 10th won by Davenport teams in the history of professional baseball in the city dating to 1879. In addition to the five Midwest League titles, Davenport-based teams won the Three-I League in 1914 and 1946, a Mississippi Valley League title in 1933 and Western League championships in 1935 and 1936.
ON DECK: Quad-Cities opens the 2012 season at home April 6, facing Kane County.