A short taste of postseason play a year ago now provides Trey Dawson with an understanding of the second season that begins tonight for the Quad-Cities River Bandits.
“It goes by quick and you need to be ready to make the most of it,’’ Dawson said. “It ended too soon for us last season, two games and it was over.’’
The River Bandits find themselves facing a best-of-three scenario again, facing Cedar Rapids in the opening round of the Midwest League playoffs beginning at 6:35 p.m. today at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The second and, if necessary, third games of the series will be played at Modern Woodmen Park on Thursday and Friday beginning at 6:35 p.m.
Quad-Cities earned home field advantage by winning the first-half championship in the Western Division. With a team built on a foundation of pitching and defense, the River Bandits carry a 79-57 record into the postseason.
For the second straight year, Quad-Cities pitchers have led the Midwest League in strikeouts, recording 1,372, and this season River Bandits pitchers have been backed up by a defense that led the league with a .977 fielding percentage.
Valente Belloze is scheduled to open on the mound tonight for Quad-Cities while the Kernels will counter with Luis Rijo, who helped Cedar Rapids build a 78-62 record including a 9-7 record against their first-round opponent.
“We know we are playing a good team. Being in the playoffs is a beautiful experience and this season has prepared us well to go out and have success,’’ River Bandits catcher Oscar Campos said. “We will continue to show up and work hard every day and good things will follow.’’
River Bandits manager Ray Hernandez senses that as well.
“I’m confident that our guys will pitch well and against them last week (in a series of three one-run games) we were a hit away in the games we didn’t win,’’ Hernandez said. “We’re right there and we’re anxious to go out and compete.’’
Hernandez said it will take a collective effort, something Dawson understands.
“We all have a job to do and we need to go out and do it,’’ he said.
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Like a number of his teammates, Dawson has multitasked this season.
He has seen action in a team-leading 112 games for Quad-Cities, joining Austin Dennis as the only players on the current roster to top 100 games this season for the River Bandits.
Dawson has played all over the diamond for Quad-Cities, seeing action at second, shortstop and third in the infield and has played left and center field for the first time since being drafted in the 15th round in 2018 out of Kentucky.
“I had never played the outfield before and it’s been a good experience for me,’’ Dawson said. “This game is about learning every day and I feel like I’ve been able to learn a lot this season that will be able to help me as I move forward.’’
Hernandez appreciates the contributions Dawson has made this season.
“He got off to a tough start to the season, but he’s handled it like a professional,’’ Hernandez said. “When he’s in the lineup, he’s ready to play. He’s been a steady defender all season and heading into the postseason, his bat is coming around. He needs that and we need that.’’
One of the River Bandits’ representatives at the Midwest League All-Star Game earlier this season, Dawson is ready to help lead Quad-Cities in the postseason.
His season batting average is .206, but he has hit .270 while putting together three multi-hit games over his last 10 starts for the River Bandits.
“I’m feeling good at the plate right now and I think as a team, we’re ready to break out a bit,’’ he said. “We know Cedar Rapids has good pitchers and we do, too, but I’m confident that we can get our bats going. It’s going to take all of us doing whatever we’re asked to do, but we’re ready.’’
Experience tells Dawson that.
“This team can have a good run in the playoffs,’’ he said. “We can make it happen.’’