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Figueroa’s walk-off homer lifts Sussex County to 1st Can-Am League Title

Sussex County defeated the Quebec Capitales 6-5 win to win their first Can-Am League championship.

Sussex County was down to their final out and in a 5-3 hole against the Quebec in Game 4 of the Can-Am Championship Series. They were facing the possibility of a Game 5 on Sunday afternoon at Skylands Stadium. The home crowd was quieted in the top of the ninth after a solo home run off the bat of Quebec designated hitter Nick Van Stratten. However, there was no panic in the Sussex County dugout. On Friday, the Miners rallied twice and eventually won it in the ninth on a walk-off single from Daniel Mateo in Game 3

“If we’re down a couple of runs, I’m never worried about it,” said Sussex County manager Bobby Jones. “We’re known to come back late. They are always tough at the end of the day and their character from the beginning has been tough and always going to fight. It showed who they are and what they are about and that’s why we are here.”

Designated hitter Audy Ciraco got it going on Saturday lacing a single to left field. Mateo stepped up to the plate leading the team with three home runs and 14 RBI’s in the postseason. He hit a ground ball into shallow right field that Quebec second baseman TJ White could not field cleanly.

“We worked so hard to be in this place. I just concentrated on my approach. When people are on base, I try to move them up and not be selfish,” said Mateo. “Every time I’m at the plate, I’m trying to find the best pitch and make good contact.”

That set the stage for the Can-Am League Rookie of the Year in Martin Figueroa. Earlier he slugged a solo home run in the sixth off Capitales starter Bobby Blevins. This time around in a duel with closer Trevor Bayless, Figueroa launched a colossal home run that sailed deep over the wall that set off a raucous celebration not only with teammates at home plate but with 1,391 in attendance.

Sussex County is a team that went a combined 78-119 in its first two seasons. After going 45-54 in 2017, the Miners picked up their first playoff berth this season with a 63-38 record, including a league-best 41-13 home record at Skylands Stadium. The Miners also set a league record after improving by 17 and a half games from last season.

After being named the Can-Am League Manager of the Year, Bobby Jones gives his thoughts about Sussex County winning the first championship in franchise history:

“I thought we were going to win the game at some point or get back into the game. I never thought we were out of it. The feeling in the dugout when Ciriaco and Mateo got on was that he (Martin Figueroa) is going to hit a home run. There were many nights I was crying and upset. I’m a very passionate person and believe Sussex County baseball is going to a different level. As we got deeper into the playoffs, the stadium filled up more and more every night. When we got here in at the beginning of the year, it was tough to get 500 people but we got more consistent crowds.”

“The whole focus was to win at home, make this point and make this a winning place for people to come to. These guys set the home win record. When fans come to the stadium, it’s a good feeling.”

Martin Figueroa thoughts on the Game 4 victory and championship title: “We (Sussex County) were grinding the whole way through. We came into this game thinking we were going to win it. We have played well at home all year and we just believed. We put it all together, never gave up, kept on going and put it in the hands of God. The results were pretty good, and now we can call ourselves champions.”

Despite a no-decision, Miners starter Cory Jones threw a staggering 139 pitches in 7 1/3 innings on the mound. He yielded four runs on ten hits while walking four and striking five. In his prior two appearances in the playoffs, including a win over Trois-Rivieres last Sunday, Jones had jaw-dropping pitch counts of 156 and 155.

“I gave us a chance but didn’t pitch well. I battled and my team picked me up big time. It was awesome. We have been doing this all year. This is our home and we play well here. We knew in our head we had a chance to win. I have played professional baseball for six years, and this is by far the most fun season I ever had in my entire life.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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