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Epic Chase Fizzles as Season Ends

Bisons season likely to end come Monday

You hear all those soundbites from the minor-league minions: “It’s all about developing players.” “We’re here to prepare players to get to the big leagues.”

Yet don’t tell that to the Buffalo Bisons and their manager, Ken Oberkfell, as the team has been in a vise-grip struggle with three other teams for one of four playoff spots in the International League’s Governors’ Cup playoffs. The regular season concludes this Monday, Labor Day, with the playoffs set to start two days later.

Barring any last-minute surprises, Buffalo will not be one of those four teams.

Oberkfell’s voice cracked and he almost had a hard time maintaining his composure last week after the Bisons dropped another game against division bottom-feeder Pawtucket, losing four of the six-game set at home and wounding their position in the standings as the team hit the road. “It’s really tough to take when you see the other teams lose,” he said. “I don’t feel we played a good ball game tonight. We didn’t make adjustments offensively. You can’t walk people constantly and expect to win ball games. You give the other team free outs and that just can’t happen. These guys are AAA pitchers and you can’t walk people. You can’t walk people.”

During that Pawtucket series, it was Sox leadoff man Josh Reddick who did most of the damage in all the games. “I gotta tip my hat to Reddick, he was Babe Ruth in this series,” said Oberkfell. “Every out he made was hard hit. Obviously he got into our pitchers’ heads.”

At one point in the chase, the Bisons managed to put together a 17-3 record through most of August. Included in that run was a four-game sweep at home of the Columbus Clippers, the team that is most likely to be the wild card participant when the season ends this weekend.

Yet during that stretch, the Louisville Bats also kept on winning. The Clippers kept pace. And despite all their on-field success, the Bisons found themselves at a three-game deficit in the standings much of the time, a number that barely budged as the teams headed into the final week.

While much of the focus has been on the wild card chase, the Bisons also found themselves out of the division title race for much of the year. This past Sunday the team played at PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania, the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The Yanks have had nothing but success these past few seasons, owning the North Division and claiming one Governors’ Cup during that run.

On Sunday they made it four straight titles under the Yankees banner and five overall as a franchise. The Bisons could only muster one hit through eight innings, and while they made it interesting in the ninth, Buffalo ended losing that game 5-1, and could only watch helplessly as their division rivals celebrated the clinching of yet another division championship before their home fans.

“No matter what level you play at, watching that was tough to take,” said infielder Russ Adams. “But this season isn’t over. We can still put together a run this week and we’ll be back on this field next week. It will be an entirely different ball game then.”

Oberkfell put the same spin out this past Monday, as the Bisons lost in extra innings to Syracuse, putting them three and a half games out of the playoffs with just eight games left to play. “We need to win, and obviously we need help,” he said. “I’m a big believer that whenever you’re mathematically alive, you have a chance. This club is capable of winning eight straight. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. But the bottom line is we need to score runs and we need to get outs.”

Should the season end this weekend, it can still be called one of the most entertaining in years, especially after the hideous 2009 implosion as the Mets era began. “It has been one of the most fun years to cover this team since I joined up with the Bisons,” said broadcaster Ben Wagner this past Sunday. “Guys in the clubhouse feel it.”

“This is what you play for,” added Russ Adams. “If all the teams in the chase are winning games, it’s because everyone is trying and playing that much harder. One little slip up, one loss can cost you. Good bye season.”

The Bisons concluded their home schedule at Coca Cola Field this past Thursday. The team will be in Rochester this Sunday evening and Monday afternoon at Frontier Field. Bisons fans who make the short trip will have one last opportunity to see their team in action.

And if lightning strikes, games one and two of the best of five playoff series will open up next Wednesday and Thursday at Coca Cola Field. Stay tuned!

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