SCOTT TAYLOR, MyToba.ca
Photos by JAMES CAREY LAUDER, MyToba.ca

Hail to the champions. The Winnipeg Goldeyes are champions of the American Association’s North Division.

With a doubleheader sweep of the visiting Sioux Falls Canaries, the Goldeyes improved to 58-33 on the season and wrapped up the North Division pennant with nine games remaining in the schedule.

The Fish won Game 1 of Friday night’s twin bill 6-3 behind starter Ryan Bollinger and then took Game 2 2-0 as Nick Hernandez won his 11th game of the season by throwing a five-hit shutout. It was the win in Game 2 that locked up the regular-season title and sent the Goldeyes into the playoffs for the seventh time in Rick Forney’s nine seasons as Goldeyes manager.2014 Champions logo - Final 1

“There isn’t a guy in that clubhouse who didn’t want the ball in that game tonight and I was about as happy as I could be to the one who got the start,” said Hernandez. “When I think about the fact that I missed 2 1/2 years of baseball because my arm just wouldn’t do what I needed it to do and when I think about the bad start I got off to this season (his ERA was 7.29 after his first three starts), I’m just happy that Rick gave me the ball tonight.

“This is a great team. Maybe the best team I’ve played on in my career. I’m so fortunate to be here. We look at that 2012 championship pennant every day and we want one of those. That’s the goal. This is a great start but there is more work to do yet.”

After taking the opener 6-3, the Goldeyes got two runs in the first inning of the nightcap and that’s all they needed.

Brock Bond led off with a single, Jake Blackwood was hit by a pitch and then Tyler Kuhn hit a ground-rule double into the Goldeyes’ bullpen to score Bond with what turned out to be the winning run. Casey Haerther grounded out but Blackwood scored from third and the Goldeyes had more than they needed with Hernandez on the mound.

After the game, in the midst of a champagne celebration, Forney told his team how proud he was of their accomplishment: “You guys have done everything I’ve asked of you from Day 1. I’m so proud of all of you.”

With the doubleheader sweep, the Goldeyes won their sixth and seventh straight games and have now won 11 of their last 12. It didn’t matter what second-place St. Paul did in Lincoln on Friday night. The Fish wrapped it up when Hernandez struck out Sioux Falls shortstop Stephen Branca to record the final out.

Hernandez (11-2, 3.13 ERA) got the complete-game win while Kye Winter (1-3, 7.04 ERA) suffered the loss. The Goldeyes finished with two runs on only four hits while Sioux Falls had no runs on five hits.

Goldeyes playoff tickets are now on sale. The first two games of the post-season will be played at Winnipeg’s Shaw Park on Sept. 3 and 4. The Goldeyes’ opponent is yet to be determined.

In Game 1, the Goldeyes fell behind 2-0 after the top of the first but answered the bell in the bottom of the first and never looked back.

Down two-zip, the Fish got a single from Jake Blackwood and then after Tyler Kuhn walked and Casey Haerther singled to load the bases, Reggie Abercrombie was safe on a fielder’s choice and drove in Blackwood with Winnipeg’s first run. Donnie Webb’s infield single drove home Kuhn to make it 2-2 and then Josh Mazzola’s solid single to left brought in Abercrombie to give Winnipeg a 3-2 lead.

In the second, the Goldeyes went ahead 5-2 as Brock Bond walked, stole second and scored on Kuhn’s single and then, after Haerther walked, Abercrombie drove home Kuhn with a base hit.

A.J. Kirby-Jones homered for Sioux Falls to make the score 5-3, but Kuhn hit a long solo homer in the fourth to make it 6-3 and the Goldeyes were on the threshold of the post-season.

Bollinger (2-0, 4.09 ERA) got the victory while Sioux Falls starter Matt Wickswat (3-8, 6.20 ERA) pitched a complete game but took the loss. Chris Kissock (3.07 ERA) picked up his 16th save of the season for Winnipeg. The Goldeyes finished with six runs on nine hits while New Jersey had three runs on nine scattered hits.

The Goldeyes and Canaries will play Game 3 of this four-game series on Saturday night at 6 p.m. Matt Jackson (10-6, 4.07 ERA) will get the start for Winnipeg while Kyle Vazquez (5-7, 5.20 ERA) will take to the bump for Sioux Falls. The game can be heard live with Steve Schuster at the microphone on The Jewel 101 (100.7 on your dial).

Tickets for all 2014 Winnipeg Goldeyes games are available through Ticketmaster by clicking on Goldeyes.com, calling 1-855-GOLDEYE or visiting any Ticketmaster location, including the Shaw Park box office.

American Association North Division standings

Team W L Pct GB Streak Last 10
Winnipeg Goldeyes 58 33 .637 7W 9-1
St. Paul Saints 47 43 .522 10.5 1W 3-7
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 38 52 .422 19.5 5L 2-8
Sioux Falls Canaries 30 61 .330 28 3L 3-7