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OnBaseMachine
09-05-2008, 01:15 PM
Billings Mustangs (41-31) vs. Great Falls Voyagers (38-36)
Best-of-3 series begins Saturday, Sept. 6

The Voyagers had some work to do in the second half, finishing the first half in third place in the North Division, a game behind the Helena Brewers. The team got there with a 17-13 August, as the pitching staff got hot to the tune of a 3.42 ERA (and more than a strikeout per inning). However, even through a somewhat lackluster August, the story of this division all season has been the Billings Mustangs and their big offense. While Great Falls will be looking to get back to the championship and avenge last season's defeat against the Orem Owlz, Billings is looking for their first finals appearance since 2004, and their first championship since 2003.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

You'd be hard pressed to find things more even than the clubs have played this season, splitting the 16-game regular season. The Voyagers outscored Billings by 11 runs in those games, holding the Mustangs to just about four per game. In fact, Great Falls proved to be one of the league's only teams that could contain the Billings offense, holding it to a mere .238 average. Billings pitchers did their part to stay matched, holding the Voyagers to a .716 OPS.

If the trend continues, and the series proves to be more about pitching than hitting, Great Falls will have their share of arms to throw at the Mustangs. The aforementioned Dexter Carter will certainly be salivating at a chance to face Billings for a sixth time, as he's allowed the league rival just one earned run in 22 1/3 innings. However, the Mustangs won't be outdone too easily, as both Jamie Arneson (2-0, 1.64) and Lance Janke (1-0, 3.27) have had success against the Voyagers this season.

Offensively, Great Falls' focus will be on stopping David Sappelt, one of the few remaining hitters who has given the staff fits. Sappelt hit .362 in 13 games against the Voyagers this season, with eight extra-base hits and 10 runs scored. On the other side, the leader of the Voyagers offense, shortstop Tyler Kuhn, will certainly be expected to lead here, as Kuhn hit .404 against Billings this season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Billings: The Mustangs had one of the league's best players in Neftali Soto, only for awhile, as Soto's success was met with a promotion to the Midwest League. The team also hoped that Reds first-rounder Yonder Alonso would join the team, but he was sent to Sarasota instead. So while the current prospect landscape isn't as fruitful as it could've been, there is still a lot of talent. Infielder Alex Buchholz has picked up the slack in Soto's absence, batting .400 average in 33 games. The power comes from first baseman Michael Konstanty, who has 25 extra-base hits and 10 home runs in 51 games. The outfield is also dangerous with Tyler Stovall (.463 SLG), David Sappelt (.509 SLG) and Byron Wiley (.635 SLG). The pitching staff is led most by a diverse bullpen, though despite his troubles, starter Clayton Shunick (1-4, 8.45) is the team's highest Draft pick, selected in the fifth round this June.

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080904&content_id=454568&vkey=news_l128&fext=.jsp&sid=l128

OnBaseMachine
09-06-2008, 01:35 PM
Mustangs fall in finale; playoffs start today

By MIKE SCHERTING
Of The Gazette Staff
A 14-game road trip to start the season. A North Division first-half title and the share of a second-half title to go with it. Playing to large crowds in the first season of new Dehler Park.

The Billings Mustangs put the final period on those storylines and more in a 3-2 loss to the Helena Brewers Friday night in the Pioneer League regular-season finale in front of 3,236 fans on Fan Appreciation Night.

The Mustangs, who finished the regular season 42-32, now turn their attention to the first round of the playoffs, which open tonight, also at Dehler.

"It just seemed like yesterday we were getting off the bus, talking about things and now we're ready to head into the playoffs," Mustangs manager Julio Garcia said following Friday's game. "(The season) did go fast. Overall, I thought our team did a great job. As the old saying goes, 'time flies when you're having fun.' This was a fun year with a good group of guys."
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Of course, it's not over yet. Coming to town are the Great Falls Voyagers (39-37), who wound up with a playoff berth by finishing with the second-best overall record in the division and essentially tying the Mustangs for the second-half title. (Only percentage points separated the two teams).

The Mustangs and Voyagers each won eight of the 16 games played between them, meaning this best-of-three series probably couldn't be any closer.

The Voyagers boast the second-best pitching staff in the league, based on team ERA (4.29 before Friday's final games compared to Billings' 4.78). With Game 1 starter Kevin Skogley, Game 2 starter Daniel Hudson as well as Dexter Carter, the Voyagers also have the top three strikeout pitchers in the league.

"They've got some good starting pitching, a lot of arms," said Mustangs first baseman Mike Konstanty. "They hit the ball well and they're a good team, man, for sure. It's going to be a tough series."

As the winner of the division's first-half title, the Mustangs had the choice of starting the playoffs at home and hosting one game, or starting the playoffs in Great Falls but getting to host games two and three.

Mustangs general manager Gary Roller left the decision up to manager Garcia, who chose to start the playoffs at home and forgo homefield advantage. Garcia said that because the first game of a short series was so important, he wanted to play at home, especially since the Mustangs won't have to travel to start the playoffs.

The Voyagers wrapped up their season with a 7-5 loss at home against Missoula Friday night and will travel from Great Falls.

"I'm an old-fashioned guy, I think we have to make the routine play," Garcia said, when asked to sum up the key to a short series. "In a series like this, one mistake can push it one way or another."

NOTES: Shortstop Miguel Rojas was named the Hardee's Most Popular Player in voting conducted by Mustangs fans. ... Final attendance for the season was 113,166, an average of 3,059. The Mustangs finished second in attendance behind Ogden, which drew 138,555 fans for an average of 3,745.

http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2008/09/06/sports/local/27-mustangs.txt