High Desert 5 @ Lancaster 8
In their 10 year history the Lancaster JetHawks had never won a playoff game against the High Desert Maverick.
The wait is over.
The JetHawks came back from a 5-2 deficit Wednesday to take game one of the three game series in the California League playoffs. Things began auspiciously for the JetHawks, as starter A. J. Shappi allowed a first inning solo home run to give the Mavericks the early lead, but it would be short lived. In the bottom half of the inning first baseman Edgar Varela came through with a two out single to tie the game, and the race was on.
In the bottom of the third center fielder Steve Garrabrants led off with a triple, and was brought home on the second double of the day for shortstop Kenny Perez. In the fifth inning Shappi allowed a second solo homer to tie the game, but until the seventh, Shappi was cruising. He allowed just six hits and two runs, on the two solo shots, heading into the seventh, but fatigue would catch up with him, and the Mavericks would pounce.
A leadoff single was followed by a walk and another single and JetHawks manager Bill Plummer had seen enough. The call went to the bullpen for lefty specialist Reuben Kerbs. During the regular season Kerbs had been murder on lefties, holding them to a .133 batting average, and thus with power hitting lefty first baseman Chris Lubanski coming to the dish, Kerbs was the natural fit. Unfortunately for the JetHawks Lubanski connected for his second home run of the day, a three run shot, and suddenly the JetHawks found themselves down three with three frames left.
In the bottom half of the seventh second baseman Danny Richar laced a double to lead things off, and when catcher Phil Avlas walked to bring the tying run to the plate the JetHawks seemed to be in business, but after a pop up and a force play it would take more clutch hitting for the JetHawks to come back.
Thankfully, Kenny Perez was back. Perez, playing in his first game back since a sprained ankle sat him down on August 25th, continued his hot hitting with runners in scoring position (he hit .375 with RISP during the season) singled through the right side, scoring Richar, and after right fielder Jeff Cook was hit by a pitch the bases were loaded for Alex Frazier. Frazier picked out one he liked and launched it to center, easily clearing the wall and putting the JetHawks up two on his first ever playoff grand slam.
After that Plummer turned the ball over to a pair of his most consistent relievers to close things out. Micah Owings was touching 96 on the radar gun and he mowed down the Mavericks in the eighth, and after Avlas gave the JetHawks an extra insurance run in the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot Matt Wilkinson came on for a 1-2-3 ninth that sealed the win.
Diamondbacks Director of Minor League Player Development Mike Rizzo was in Lancaster, and was particularly impressed with Owings.
"He's just come out of the shoot and thrown the ball magnificently," Rizzo said of the Diamondbacks 3rd round pick in the 2005 draft, "he's really had a whirlwind year, and now that he's strictly pitching [Owings was the everyday first baseman for the Tulane Green Wave as well as being their #1 starter] he's been everything that we hoped for."
Kerbs earned the win, with Wilkinson picking up the save. The best-of-three mini series continues at Maverick Stadium on Thursday night. Matt Chico will take the mound for the JetHawks and John Gragg will make the start for the Mavericks.
South Bend 3 @ Southwest Michigan 2
Kellen Raab picked a great time for his best start of the year.
Maybe it was the nerves, but in the first inning Raab looked anything but sharp, walking the second man he faced and then throwing a wild pitch as the runner tried to steal second, allowing the runner to go all the way to third. He would score one batter later on a single.
And that was it.
From there Raab was fantastic, retiring 10 straight SWM hitters before a fifth inning single, and then after that hit retiring nine more in a row before turning the ball over to the bullpen. In seven innings Raab allowed just two hits, one walk and one earned run, he struck out only two, but after the first not a single SWM runner advanced past second base, and Raab would earn the game one victory.
The Silverhawks would get on the board in the third inning, after a couple of singles and an Alberto Gonzalez double that cleared the bases, and add another in the fourth after catcher Wilkin Castillo led off with a double and advanced to third on DH Orlando Mercado's single. Left fielder Travis Gulick would drive home Castillo with a single, and the Silverhawks had given Raab more than enough support. Lead off man Emilio Bonifacio, playing second, was a catalyst all night, going 3-4 and scoring a run, but this game was all about pitching.
After Raab Josh Perrault came on and gave up a lead off home that brought the game back to within one, but retired the next three before handing the ball off to closer Matt Elliott. Elliott, who collect 32 regular season saves, holding opponents to a tiny .183 average, retired all three he would face in route to the save.