Photo: Bees pitcher Cole Duensing waits for the throw as he covers first base on Evan Edwards’ second-inning grounder. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
The celebration started after the final out on the field that had been one big party zone after the previous three games.
Only this time, the home team wasn’t the one enjoying the moment.
The Clinton LumberKings clinched a second-half Western Division playoff spot with Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Burlington Bees in a Class A Midwest League game at Community Field.
The victory ended a streak of three consecutive walk-off wins for the Bees, the last one Tuesday’s four-pitcher no-hitter in the 1-0 10-inning victory over Beloit.
The Bees (66-69 overall, 27-38 second half) left the bases loaded in the second and third innings before Clinton (74-60, 41-24) took control of the game with two runs in the fourth and another run in the fifth.
The LumberKings are tied with Kane County for the division lead, and the Bees could play a role in how that race plays out. Burlington and Clinton have two more games remaining in this series, and then the Bees play a three-game series at Kane County beginning Saturday.
Clinton went 33-36 in the first half, finishing 11 1/2 games out of first place and 5 1/2 games out of the second playoff spot.
Bees manager Jack Howell said he could see the difference in the LumberKings just in how they hit Burlington pitchers Cole Duensing (6-7) and Luis Alvarado.
“I thought both of those guys pitched well,” Howell said. “And (the LumberKings) still hit the ball well. You can tell that’s a team that’s been hitting the ball well.”
Clinton had a plus-1 run differential in the first half, a plus-97 differential in the second half. The LumberKings hit .223 in the first half, .258 in the second half.
Duensing faced the minimum in the first three innings, pushing the scoreless streak for Bees’ pitchers to 28 innings. He got out of the third inning when new Bees right fielder Johan Sala made a running catch in the gap, then threw to first base to get a double play to end the inning. Duensing raised his glove and pointed to Sala as the Bees left the field.
The Bees had the bases loaded with one out in the second inning and didn’t score, then had first and second with no one out in the third, loading the bases with two outs before Clinton starter Alberto Guerrero (9-6) got out of the inning.
The LumberKings got their runs in the fourth on Davis Bradshaw’s triple that scored Christopher Torres and Peyton Burdick’s infield grounder that brought in Bradshaw.
Evan Edwards’ solo home run in the fifth made it a 3-0 lead, then the LumberKings added two runs in the seventh on Thomas Jones’ triple and Samuel Castro’s single.
Clinton relievers Raul Brito and Nathan Alexander retired the last nine Bees to finish the win.
That led to a LumberKings’ playoff celebration in front of their dugout.
Another party, just in a different place.