By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Cyclones couldn't prevent Tri-City from celebrating the clinching of the Stedler Division title at MCU Park on Wednesday night.
But they did beat the New York-Penn League-leading ValleyCats, 4-1, before a crowd of 4,642 on Coney Island behind the brilliant pitching of 20-year-old right-hander Luis Cessa.
Unbeknownst to the ValleyCats, and their manager Stubby Clapp, the club with the 14-team circuit's best record at 44-18 had already earned the right to call themselves Stedler Division champions following Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Cyclones.
But Clapp was under the impression that his team needed another win to secure the pennant, until receiving a call Wednesday afternoon clarifying the clinching.
"I had no idea we had clinched," Clapp told MiLB.com. "I was still planning on winning another one."
In a playful mood, Clapp, a former Marine Corps drill sergeant, welcomed his players to the visiting team's locker room with a tongue-lashing, and forced them to do push-ups for breaking curfew the night before. Then, he popped a few bottles of bubbly and informed them that they were champions of their division, sparking an unexpected pre-game celebration.
The Cyclones made sure it was the last one they enjoyed Wednesday night.
Cessa (4-4), who had lost his previous two starts, yielded one run on six hits while striking out three without issuing a walk over seven innings and Matthew Bowman followed with two scoreless frames as the Baby Bums beat the league's top team for the second time in five meetings this season.
Jeffrey Glenn, Dimas Ponce and Phillip Evans drove in runs for Brooklyn, which maintained a four-game lead over Batavia in the hunt for the NY-Penn wild card and remained four back of first-place Hudson Valley in the McNamara Division race.
Stefan Sabol scored twice for the Cyclones, who improved to 38-24 overall and 18-12 at MCU Park this summer.
Cessa, who has surrendered one earned run or fewer in five of his last six starts, was reached for an RBI single by M.P. Cokinos in the top of the second inning before shutting the 'Cats down over his final five frames of work.
Brooklyn answered with a run in the bottom of the second as Sabol reached on an error and eventually scored on Ponce's run-scoring base hit. The Cyclones took the lead for good in the third as Brandon Nimmo led off with a single, moved to second on Richie Rodriguez's groundout and rumbled home on Evans' grounder up the middle for a 2-1 advantage.
Glenn scored on a wild pitch in the fourth and Sabol tripled and crossed the plate on Glenn's single in the sixth to make it 4-1.
The Cyclones can actually do the ValleyCats a favor next week when they meet Hudson Valley for a critical home-and-home series that could decide the McNamara crown. Tri-City is only two games in front of the Renegades for home-field advantage in next month's playoffs.
"We still have to play and finish on top," Clapp told MiLB. "Hudson Valley is right behind us and we want to finish with best record and home-field still. So we have a lot to play for."
As do the Cyclones, who are trying to catch the Renegades and/or hold off the Muckdogs in a quest to capture their first NY-Penn Championship since sharing the crown with Williamsport in 2001.
According to current standings, Brooklyn would meet Tri-City in a first-round playoff series once the regular-season ends. The teams were scheduled to wrap up their three-game set Thursday night at MCU before the Cyclones open a three-game with the league-worst Staten Island Yankees at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Friday evening.
This, That and the Other Thing: The 37th former Cyclone to reach the big leagues is Collin McHugh, who pitched for the Mets against Colorado on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field. The 25-year-old right-hander, who went 8-2 with a 2.76 ERA for Brooklyn in 2009, earned the start for the big league club by posting a 3.39 ERA in 12 appearances at Triple-A Buffalo this season under former Cyclones manager Wally Backman. A former 18th-round pick out of Berry College in 2008, McHugh also pitched at Class A Savannah, Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton on his path to the Majors. McHugh didn't seem the least bit daunted by the big league stage, firing seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball with a walk and eight strikeouts before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh.