By MIKE SCOTT
Special Writer to the USPBL
After all the home runs, steals, strikeouts, fireworks, hot dogs and mascot shenanigans, the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) will be hosting its playoffs this weekend in historic downtown Utica, Mich., Friday through Sunday.
The Westside Woolly Mammoths finished the regular season in first place and will get a berth in the league championship game on Sunday, Sept. 8 at 1:05 p.m. The Woolly Mammoths were led all year by Ethan Wiskur, who tied the all-time USPBL home runs record with his 25th career round-tripper in the final regular season game.
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The No. 2 seed is the Utica Unicorns, which earned a bye into the semifinal game, held Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The Unicorns will battle the winner of Friday’s 7:05 p.m. game between No. 3 seed Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers and the No. 4 seed Eastside Diamond Hoppers.
The playoff seeds were finalized the last week of the regular season with the Unicorns and Woolly Mammoths deciding the regular-season title and top seed on Saturday night with Westside’s 7-0 victory behind right-hander Dan Williams, who earned the win in his first-ever start. Will Johnson had two hits and two runs scored and Wiskur belted his 14th homer this season as the Mammoths won the pennant.
Among the league leaders during the regular season were Wiskur, who led the league with 14 homers, 46 RBIs and a league-leading .983 OPS, the Beavers’ Adam Gauthier ranks in the top five in the USPBL in many offensive categories, including second in runs scored (40), RBI (37) and third in on-base percentage (.429). Eastside’s fleet centerfielder Pat Adams captured the USPBL Batting Title with a .327 average, and broke the single-season record with a league-best 47 walks.
The top pitchers during the regular season were Matt Cronin from the Woolly Mammoths and Donald Goodson from the Unicorns. Cronin finished 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA and Goodson was 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA and a .169 opponents’ batting average. The Unicorns’ Ty Hensley and Beavers’ Garrett Christman have been strong down the stretch. Hensley is second in the league by holding opponents to a .211 batting average and Christman is second with six wins in the USPBL.
It has been a successful year for the USPBL in building upon its reputation for getting players signed to major league franchises. Utica Unicorns Adrian Guzman and Eric Jones signed contracts in late August with the Minnesota Twins organization, becoming the eighth and ninth players to earn MLB contracts this season. A total of 36 players overall have signed out of the USPBL.
Earlier in August former Utica Unicorns pitcher Randy Dobnak became the first USPBL alum to get called up to a Major League roster, having appeared in multiple games for a Twins team that is chasing an American League Central Division title. Dobnak returned to Jimmy John’s Field and was interviewed between the fifth and sixth innings. “It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Dobnak told the crowd. Two years ago I never would have thought I would be where I am today. I’m speechless (thinking about) the opportunity (the USPBL) gave me to jump start my career.”
A limited number of tickets still remain for Championship Weekend presented by OUR Credit Union. There will be food and drink specials available and the final Friday night fireworks will be held this weekend. Learn more by visiting USPBL.com.
The United Shore Professional Baseball League was founded by Rochester-based General Sports and Entertainment, and is the culmination of a 10-year effort by General Sports to bring professional baseball to the Detroit area. General Sports is led by President & CEO Andy Appleby, a former Senior Vice President of the Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment. General Sports previously owned and operated the Fort Wayne Wizards, a Minor League Baseball team in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Derby County Football Club, an English football (soccer) club in the English Premier and Championship Football Leagues. The USPBL will give General Sports the opportunity to employ every best practice that its experienced team has learned over the past 30 years at the highest level of sports management and marketing.
The USPBL launched May 2016 with an initial slate of three teams playing a full 75-game schedule at Jimmy John’s Field in historic downtown Utica. The USPBL is the first league in history to feature best practices such as having all of its games played on prime dates, Thursday to Sunday from mid-May through early September – the very finest months of weather in Michigan.
For more information, visit the USPBL website.