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Spokane Indians get hot at the right time, clinch spot in High-A West championship series

Spokane Indians starter Helcris Olivarez delivers during a High-A West game against the Eugene Emeralds on May 9 at Avista Stadium. The Indians clinched a playoff spot Wednesday and will host Eugene in the best-of-5 championship series starting Tuesday. Spokane can still win the regular-season title.  (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Indians did not get off to a great start. But a lot of times in baseball it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

And no one in baseball finished as well as the Indians this season.

On Wednesday, Spokane downed the Everett AquaSox 6-3 on the road to complete an improbable comeback and clinch one of the two spots in the High-A West championship series. That followed Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the AquaSox, when the Indians rallied from a four-run deficit in the ninth inning to win 5-4 in 10 innings.

Spokane started the season 2-10 and was 14½ games behind first-place Everett after a loss on Aug. 1. But the Indians won 10 games in a row from Aug. 13-24 and went 20-6 in the month, catching Everett on Sept. 3.

The Indians have gone 8-3 in September.

“It’s a culmination of so many things,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “To watch a group like this do what they did, pull off what they did – it was amazing. We can’t be more proud, or just look at them without going, ‘Wow!’ Just a great effort.

“The one thing we were really good at, that even though we were in the middle of a really big streak was it was always, ‘One game at a time.’

“They did a great job – even when we were losing – they did a great job of putting last night’s game behind us and moving on to the next one.”

A great effort, and a group effort at that.

“It was crazy,” Little said. “We just kept believing that at some point we were going to get hot. But to stay as hot as long as we did was just incredible. They’re little warriors. They went out and believed in themselves. They believed in each other. And look what happened.”

The Indians lost two of their best hitters to promotion midseason – catcher Willie MacIver got the call to Double-A Hartford on July 13 and first baseman Michael Toglia followed him on Aug. 3. Both played in MLB’s Futures Game as part of the MLB All-Star Game festivities.

“Everybody else just kept getting better,” Little said, praising the Colorado Rockies’ organization for promoting key replacements from Low-A Fresno. “There’s some players and pitchers – their contributions were awesome with the team that was here already getting better and better each day as the season progressed. It just worked.”

Even with the influx of new players midseason, it didn’t upset the team’s chemistry.

“It was just incredible the way that the clubhouse came together, and the way it is now,” Little said.

Heading into Thursday’s games, the Indians were one-half game behind the Eugene Emeralds for first place in the league with four games left in the regular season. While “regular-season champs” would sound nice, for practical matters it’s irrelevant which team finishes first.

Eugene is not able to host any playoff games next week at PK Park since the University of Oregon has commandeered the field for its fall practice schedule. That means the entirety of the best-of-5 series will be at Avista Stadium, starting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game, if necessary, will be a 1:05 p.m. start.

Little said the possibility of hosting the playoff series didn’t factor into the team’s thinking.

“I honestly don’t think we thought about that at all,” he said.

“All we wanted to do was to make sure we kept doing what it was we were doing.