Slam brings EPBL championship series to Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Surge’s season ended eight days ago, but the Empire Professional Baseball League will still remain a presence in the village this week, and what a presence it is expected to be.

The Surge were eliminated from playoff contention in its inaugural EPBL season in Saranac Lake, but the team’s home field at Petrova Avenue will continue to be alive with action this week as the league hosts its best-of-three championship beginning Wednesday.

The Plattsburgh Thunderbirds will take on the New Hampshire Wild to determine who will be this year’s champion of the six-team Empire League. The teams clash Wednesday and Thursday, and on Friday if necessary, with each matchup scheduled to begin at noon.

Both squads advanced to the finals with victories in one-game divisional playoffs played at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Chip Cummings Field on Monday. The New Hampshire Wild edged the defending champion Puerto Rico Islanders 4-3 in the opening matchup, and then, under improbable circumstances, the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds came through with a wild, dramatic 8-7 triumph over the Road City Explorers in the second game.

In that contest, the Thunderbirds erased a three-run deficit with their backs to the wall when pinch hitter Drake Sykes launched a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning while facing an 0-2 count with two outs.

Empire League Commissioner Eddie Gonzalez explained that Sykes’ walk-off essentially sealed the deal that sent the championship series to Saranac Lake. He said the Thunderbirds are one of three teams in the North Country division, and since they won, the decision was made to host the finals at the home field of a North Country division squad. He said the Surge’s diamond was always in consideration since the season started back in the middle of June.

He added that if two teams from the South Caribe Division advanced to the final, the championship would have been decided at another location, which would have most likely been in New Hampshire or Puerto Rico.

“That’s how it just worked out. That walk-off grand slam did it,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no particular selection process, but if a North Country team was in it, Saranac Lake was the ideal choice. As a league we got together and made the decision.

“Saranac Lake was convenient for the league,” he continued. “The Surge was a brand new team, there’s good baseball support going on there, and we already had the all-star game there, and that was hugely popular, and it’s a good facility.”

The Thunderbirds won the North Country Division title and finished on top of the EPBL standings overall with a 21-12 regular-season record. The Wild fared just about as well, winning the South Caribe Division crown and placing runner-up in the league with a 21-13 mark.

The Surge finished in fifth place with a 16-19 record.

“The main objective of this league is always to move players up to higher levels of baseball, but at this point, we’re down to two teams that really want to win the championship,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to be a hard-nosed competition in a three-game series right here in Saranac Lake. It’s going to be some really fun baseball.”

Admission to the games is $5 for adults, with youth 16 and under admitted for free.