<b>CYCLONES WIN!</b> League championship series begins on Saturday night

Bring on the Valley Cats!

One of the greatest seasons in Brooklyn Cyclones’ history will continue, thanks to a dominating 6–4 win over the Jamestown Jammers at MCU Park on Thursday night to clinch the best-of-three first round playoff series and send this best-in-the-league team to upstate Troy for Game 1 of the New York–Penn League championship series, the zenith of professional sports.

Like the previous two games in this semi-final series, the game was a nail-biter from start to finish, featuring a big lead that almost disappeared into the Coney gloaming until the Cyclones bullpen put the nail in the Jammer coffin.

After the game, the bubbly was flowing — though it wasn’t traditional Champagne, but Kedem sparkling grape juice, a substitute that was either in honor of the Jewish New Year, which began just before first pitch, or the fact that several Cyclones are below the drinking age.

Either way, a team that has shown so much chemistry all season hooted, danced and paraded around half-naked when closer Dan Carrela struck out the final two batters after Jamestown had loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth.

The first game of the best-of-three final series is on the road, but Cyclone manager Wally Backman likes the matchup against a team that the Cyclones beat four out of six times this season.

“We played Tri-City well, so, yeah, I like the matchup,” the skipper said after the game, grape juice, sweat and charisma dripping off him in rivulets. “The guys are ready.”

Backman has taken these Cyclones — whose regular-season winning percentage was just a few points lower than the Cyclones’ inaugural team in 2001 — to inches below a summit that has eluded the franchise for nine previous seasons: an uncontested championship (the 2001 team shared the title with Williamsport after the terror attacks of 9-11 caused the postponement of the rest of the playoffs).

Backman certainly knows how to win — he was a critical member of the Mets World Series-winning team in 1986. So it was only natural that the press asked him about what he learned from that epic experience at Big Shea.

“Never quit,” he said. “That’s what I tell these guys: Never quit. And you saw it tonight and last night [when the Cyclones came from behind three times to beat the Jammers and force the climactic Game 3]. This team keeps fighting.”

The epic struggle of the previous night’s game did not look as necessary from the outset of this contest, though.

The Cyclones got on the board first with a single run in the home first, thanks to a double by Darrell Ceciliani, a bunt and a groundout.

Jamestown tied the score in the second on a homer off starter Chris Hilliard, who settled into a groove while the Cyclones scored two in the second on a two-RBI single by Ceciliani, and two in the third on Blake Forsythe’s dinger.

Later, Forsythe was humble when a reporter called him “the hero” of the game.

“It’s a team game and we’ve just been doing what we’ve been doing all season, winning as a team, and the pitching was incredible,” he said.

Yes, but no one else on the team happened to hit a two-run shot that put the game on ice, he was reminded.

“True, but someone had to get on base before it could even happen,” he added.

Hilliard was shaken in the fifth, though, when Jamestown cut the score to 5–4 with three runs on four singles and a sacrifice fly.

But the Cyclones added an insurance run in the eighth on a two-out double by the Game 2 hero, Juan Centeno.

Backman did a lot more managing in this crucial game than he had all season, using his relievers in key situations, then quickly pulling them, even if they were doing the job.

In the seventh, he brought in T.J. Chism, who got an out, but was pulled for Wes Wrenn, who closed the inning and then got two blistering strikeouts in the eighth before being pulled for Hamilton Bennett, who induced a groundout.

But Bennett’s night ended early when he loaded the bases in the ninth, giving up a legitimate single, a bloop single, and another single on a badly muffed groundball to supposedly Supermanish shortstop Wilfredo Tovar.

After Bennett induced a heart-stopping first-to-home forceout, Backman summoned closer Carrela, who got the last two outs, both on overpowering strikeouts.

It capped a night where the bullpen gave up just four hits — five, if you count the bizarrely scored “hit” on Tovar’s boot — over the last four innings.