A late-season, six-game winning streak has propelled the Licking County Settlers into the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League playoffs.

A late-season, six-game winning streak has propelled the Licking County Settlers into the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League playoffs.

The Settlers clinched a playoff berth on July 28 by rallying to score five runs on six hits in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Lake Erie 9-8 at Don Edwards Park.

Pinch-hitter Justin Vaske put down a bases-loaded suicide squeeze with one out in the ninth to score Drew Pearson with the winning run, setting off a dog-pile celebration behind the plate.

"We're excited to clinch a playoff spot, but that celebration was a more-of-the-moment type of thing," first-year coach Devin McIntosh said. "We were down 8-3 in the eighth and 8-4 in the ninth, so it's a big hole to climb from. It's not too often you come back from that type of hole. It was our second time doing that this season and that's a testament to our mindset and our battle-to-the-very-end mentality."

Licking County improved to 22-18 and finished second in the North Division behind Lima, which was 25-14. Lake Erie fell to 19-22 and was eliminated from the playoffs.

The Settlers, who played Lake Erie again on July 29, will conclude the regular season on Sunday, July 31, when they play host to Grand Lake.

Licking County will open the postseason Tuesday, Aug. 2, against Hamilton, Xenia or Cincinnati at Don Edwards Park. The winner advances to play Lima in the best-of-3 semifinal round, which begins Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Hamilton, Xenia and Cincinnati have clinched playoff berths. Each was battling for second in the South Division behind champion Southern Ohio. The two that finish third and fourth will be the wild-card teams.

"We're not going to rest anybody because we're on a roll right now and because Monday will be a rest day before the playoffs," McIntosh said. "We just need to keep playing the way we have lately."

The winning streak saved the Settlers, as it followed a 4-9 stretch.

"There are two main reasons for the turnaround," McIntosh said. "First, our starting pitching has kept us in the game and kept us from playing from behind. Secondly, I feel the guys are coming to the park and playing until the final pitch with the mentality of expecting to win.

"It's not as though our starting pitchers pitched that poorly during our rough stretch, but we were falling behind early and that put so much pressure on our offense. There's also a difference between playing to win and expecting to win. We've remained confident, regardless of the score and inning."

The winning streak began July 21 against Stark County (7-1) and continued against Lima (11-2 on July 22 and 5-2 on July 23), Grand Lake (12-4 on July 26), Stark County (8-3 on July 27) and Lake Erie.

Wes Meadows was named league Player of the Week after hitting .524 from July 18-24. He didn't play in the playoff-clinching win because he injured his shoulder sliding into third base against Stark County on July 27, but McIntosh expected him to be healthy for the playoffs.

Through 40 games, Meadows shared the league lead in batting average (.370) and was among the top five in RBI (26), doubles (11) and home runs (5).

Also among the league's top 15 in batting average were David Schwabe (.329), Alex Johnson (.325) and Nick Schulz (.322). Johnson had 23 RBI and 11 doubles and Schulz had 19 RBI.

"Schwabe and Schulz occupy the first two spots in the order and both are having great summers," McIntosh said. "Schwabe has been more than a table-setter for us of late. He's producing some key RBI at the top of the order. Schulz is a complete hitter and does a tremendous job of situational hitting."

Peyton Hart was hitting .298. Tyler Wynn (.252) shared the league lead with 14 doubles and also had 20 RBI. Kody Krizman (.310, 9-for-29) did not have enough at-bats to be considered among the leaders but has produced.

"Kody Krizman is a late-season pickup who has really given us some flexibility in our lineup," McIntosh said. "He's a left-handed bat who can play first base or be our DH."

Tyler Vaske (5-1, 1.64 ERA) and Brent Choban (4-1, 3.64) led Licking County starters, with Grant Porter (2-2, 2.29) and Brock Trimbur (3-3, 3.68) following. Andrew Austin (0-0, 0.71, 3 saves), Spencer Radabaugh (0-1, 1.82, 2 saves), Corey Schultz (2-2, 2.57, 1 save) and Charlie Suich (0-1, 2.96, 1 save) are the top relievers.

"Our bullpen has been strong all summer and it's been especially strong in the good stretch we've been in lately," McIntosh said. "We're in a good place mentally with everything. Now we've got to keep playing a good, confident, fundamental brand of baseball and see where that takes us in terms of the postseason."