JETHAWKS WRAPUP: THIS YEAR'S JETHAWKS WERE SCRAPPERS LANCASTER BATTLED ALL THE WAY TO THE END.
LAKE ELSINORE - A remarkably resilient team that battled until the end. That's how the 2002 JetHawks believe they should be remembered.
And it's hard to argue otherwise.
After spending much of the first half of the season in a dubious race for the worst record in professional baseball, the JetHawks - as a result of a dramatic midseason turnaround - were in contention for a second-half title up until the last day of the season and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
``We did the impossible, man,'' JetHawks outfielder Dwight Edge said. ``We went from the worst team in professional baseball to the playoffs. I'm proud to be a part of it. Ever since my junior year in high school every team I've been on has made the playoffs, so the way we played the second half, I'm just really proud to be a part of this team.''
The JetHawks were 40-30 in the second half and made the playoffs with a 63-77 overall record. They were swept by the Storm in a two-game divisional miniseries playoff. The decisive game lasted 15 innings.
``This is the team that never gave up,'' JetHawks reliever Brian Matzenbacher said. ``Everybody wrote us off in the first half, and for us to do what we did in the second half is really amazing. We just never gave up. We always had the confidence in ourselves that we were going to get better and we battled and finally it all came together in the second half.''
Everything came together in the second half because of a new attitude instilled by manager Bill Plummer, who took over managerial duties for Steve Scarsone on May 16, when the team was 11-29.
The admittedly ``old-school'' Plummer took some getting used to in a clubhouse that had grown accustomed to the more ``player-friendly'' Scarsone. The players eventually did get used to him.
``I think the big thing was when Plum came into the locker room,'' JetHawks first baseman Corey Myers said. ``I think that that was definitely a turning point for this team, and it's nothing about Scars and it's nothing about Plum because they're both great managers. I just think there was definitely law around here when Plum took over.''
Plummer had no tolerance for the losing psychology that had fermented within the team. His first challenge was to purge the clubhouse of that, and then gradually get the team to play more competitively.
``When we started it (making the playoffs) was the last thing on their mind,'' Plummer said. ``They just wanted to get the season over with, so you have to be proud of them.''
The JetHawks began playing better at the end of the first half, winning seven of their last 11 games. They didn't win three consecutive games until the final week of the first half.
Newcomers were a key factor in the second-half turnaround. Third baseman Brian Barden, catcher Chris Snyder, and pitcher Matt Henrie came directly to Lancaster straight out of college after being selected by the parent Arizona Diamondbacks in the June draft, and all made significant impacts.
Other late additions, including shortstop Dan Firlit, who was playing independent ball when the Diamondbacks signed him as a free agent in early August, and Scott Hairston, a late-season call-up, helped the JetHawks get over the hump.
Pitchers Greg Aquino, Edgar Gonzalez, and Beltran Perez bolstered a starting rotation that had become inconsistent midway through the second half. They combined to go 10-3 with a 2.66 ERA.
But it wasn't as if the Diamondbacks stacked their Single-A affiliate in the California League to win. The JetHawks lost several key players to promotions in July, including closer Jesus Silva and catcher Craig Ansman, who represented Lancaster on the midseason All-Star team, and outfielders Victor Hall and Casey Daigle.
The JetHawks moved around several players at midseason, and all the moves worked. Pitcher Brandon Medders went from being a failed starter to a dominant reliever, eventually taking over for Silva as the team's closer. After spending most of the first half struggling at third base, Myers was moved to first base, where he was a defensive standout and eventually got back on track offensively, hitting in a minor-league season-high 33 games in a row.
The JetHawks made a run at the second-half title, winning seven of their last eight games, but were up against a Lake Elsinore team that was even hotter. The Storm closed out its regular season by winning 10 consecutive games and 17 of its last 18.
Lancaster clinched a wild-card berth on the third-to-last day of the season against High Desert, the team they were chasing.
``I think it's more impressive that we won the wild-card because we started 0-0 in the second half, but to win the wild-card we had to come from 12 (games) back to High Desert and we did it,'' Matzenbacher said. ``It's something special we all should be proud of.''
They did it without the big bats that JetHawks fans have grown accustomed to in the past. Lancaster finished the season fifth in the league with 102 home runs, 33 of which came after August 1.
``We were scrappers,'' Myers said. ``We weren't last year's team with three or four 20-home run guys. We scrapped for all our wins. We did it with doubles and putting the bunt down and getting guys in scoring position. That's how we did it all season and that's how we should be remembered. We scrapped for every win and we tried to claw out eyes of the teams that we lost to.''
COREY MYERS: JetHawks first baseman had 33-game hitting streak this season.