CLINTON — As a scoreless deciding game in the Western Division Championship Series moved from the ninth to the 10th and eventually the 11th inning on Monday, the Clinton LumberKings found themselves in familiar territory.
“Whatever it takes. That’s what this team is all about, find a way and get it done,’’ said outfielder Ricky Eusebio, whose walk-off single in the 11th gave Clinton a 1-0 win over Cedar Rapids and a berth in the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 2010.
The LumberKings host the first two games of the best-of-five series beginning with a 6:30 p.m. game today at Ashford University Field. The second game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Great Lakes, which advanced with a 5-2 win Tuesday over West Michigan, will host the third game and any other additional games needed to decide the league championship.
Monday’s victory was the ninth in 12 extra-inning games and the 12th walk-off win of the season for Clinton, which overcame a loss in the opening game of its best-of-three series against the Kernels to position itself to play for the franchise’s first Midwest League pennant since 1991.
“Our pitchers have given us a chance to do things like this all year,’’ catcher James Alfonso said. “The staff that we have now has pretty much turned over from who was here at the first of the year but the constant has been the way they compete. They don’t give an inch.’’
Clinton’s pitching staff led the Midwest League with 19 shutouts and Nick Neidert sent the LumberKings into the league finals by working seven shutout innings for the second time in two postseason starts.
That type of consistency, backed up by a solid defense, has allowed Clinton players to seize opportunities offensively.
“It’s different guys on different nights, but that takes the pressure off of all of us,’’ Eusebio said. “We can just go play, because we know that somebody is going to get it done.’’
The LumberKings won a franchise-record 86 games during the regular season, but Alfonso saw chances for success even before the LumberKings played their first Midwest League game.
“We play as a team and it’s been that way all year,’’ Alfonso said. “Even going back to spring training, there was a chemistry there that you could sense. Coming into the season, it felt like a team, nobody has been in it for individual stuff. It’s been about the win.’’
That objective won’t change now.
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“We have a lot of guys here who have been a part of championship teams in college and at other levels,’’ Eusebio said. “We want to experience that again.’’
Manager Mitch Canham said on the first day of spring training in Arizona, he talked with his players about winning a championship.
“That has been our goal from the beginning, not just getting to the finals but winning the finals,’’ he said. “We still have the biggest series of the year in front of us but that one last goal is still there for us to go get.’’
And as that series begins, Canham said the LumberKings won’t change a thing. For Clinton, competing for a championship will be a collective effort.
“All hands on deck,’’ Canham said. “That won’t be a problem with this group. They’ve been giving us everything they have all season.’’