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Sonoma Wins Late-Inning Thriller to Capture Championship

Pacifics Strand Tying Run at Third in Ninth Inning

By Vinnie Longo
August 26, 2016
San Rafael, CA -

Baseball can be a funny game sometimes. 

Kyle Adie and Zack Pace had both reached base to start the bottom ninth inning for San Rafael, Adie by blooping a Texas-Leaguer into short left and Pace by drawing a walk. With Sonoma leading 5-4 and closer Jose Flores on the mound for the Stompers, who had been all but perfect against the Pacifcis in the month of August, San Rafael was ready to take any edge they could get.

But Chase Tucker popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt for an unproductive first out. 

Mike Taylor followed by dunking in a single to shallow center to load the bases for Jake Taylor, a man who had shown an incredible sense of clutch down the stretch in his rookie season of 2015, but had struggled in such situations in 2016. It looked like, for the first time in nearly a month, things were going the Pacifics way against the Stompers.

But Flores struck out Taylor swinging on a 2-2 fastball, leaving it up to rookie Brent Gillespie, who had entered the midway point of the season leading the leageu in home runs, only to be mired in a slump the rest of the way. Gillespie worked the count 1-2 before striking out to end the ballgame, sealing the first championship season in the history of the Sonoma Stompers franchise.

“We loaded the bases twice tonight and couldn’t bring a run across in either situation, that hurts,” said Pacifics Manager Matt Kavanaugh. “It’s hard to watch another team celebrate on your home field, especially when it was such a hard fought game and season. I’m proud of the way this team performed tonight and this season.”

The Stompers scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning when Tyler Herr walked the first three batters he faced to load the bases with nobody out. Herr gave way to David Johnson, who struck out Matt Hibbert looking, but fell behind Scott David and, in a full count, walked David to bring home a run. On a night where three home runs were hit between the two teams, a bases-loaded walk was the play that brought home the winning run for a championship team. 

Baseball can be a funny game sometimes. 

Chase Tucker started things off offensively for the Pacifics by clobbering a two-run homer in the first inning. Sonoma came roaring back with three runs of their own in the third, highlighted by David’s two-run homer to right, to take a 3-2 lead. But in the bottom half of the third inning, Jake Taylor blasted his league-leading 16th home run to left to score two, giving the Pacifics a 4-3 advantage. 

Pacifics rookie starter James McReyonlds did was asked of him and gave the Pacifics the chance to win, departing with one out in the fifth and a runner on second. Julian Esquibel then gave up an RBI single to Joel Carranza to left to tie the game, but Johnny Bekakis pegged Carranza at second with a one-hop throw from the wall as Carranza tried to stretch the hit to a double, keeping the game tied at 4.

From there it became a game of dueling bullpens. Esquibel and Ryan Richardson, who took over for Sonoma starter Oliver Garcia in the fourth inning, put up zero after zero on the scoreboard until Garrett Granitz entered for San Rafael in the eighth. Granitz struck out Matt Hibbert to start things off, but the submariner who had garnered a reputation for consistently throwing strikes fell into trouble after David reached on an infield single. Granitz walked Carranza and, after retiring Daniel Baptista on a fly out to left, hit Yuki Yasuda to load the bases. Herr (L, 0-1) came on and blew a fastball by Derrick Fox to end the inning and keep the score tied.

The Pacifics put the go-ahead run into scoring position in the eighth inning against Adam Ogburn (W, 2-0) and, with two outs, Daniel Gonzalez, the man who delivered the walk-off hit against Sonoma in the 2015 Pacific Association Championship Game, had the chance to save the season. But Gonzalez hit a meek grounder to first to end the inning.

Baseball can be a funny game sometimes.

With the win, Sonoma clinched the second half championship, and thereby the Pacific Association Championship for the 2016 season. It is the first championship in franchise history for the Stompers who came so close in 2015, only to fall short on the same field where they won it on Friday night.

San Rafael stranded ten runners on base and twice had the bases loaded with the heart of the order due up. In the fourth inning with two outs, Mike Taylor hit a sharp line drive to center that hung up long enough for Hibbert to track it down. In the ninth, Jake Taylor and Gillespie struck out swinging with the tying run 90 feet away. 

It begs the question of what might have been had the Pacifics not suffered so many losses this season. Reigning Pitcher of the Year Max Beatty was signed by the Chicago White Sox two weeks into the season. Michael Ormseth, who was leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA went down with a season-ending injury to his throwing elbow in July. Reliever of the Year frontrunner JR Bunda was signed by the Lincoln Saltdogs during the first week of August, and standout lefty reliever Ryan Davis was taken by Lincoln in June. Michael McClellan was finally heating up when he was signed by the Schaumburg Boombers in early August. The argument could be made that the Pacifics lost the three best pitchers in the league to trades or injury, as well as a clutch bat in the heart of a lineup that had a propensity for stranding runners in scoring position.

So many things have to go right for a team to win a championship, something that can become lost in the shuffle when a franchise wins three championships in its first four years of existence, as happened in San Rafael. Health needs to be consistent, hitters need to come through in the clutch, pitchers need to throw strikes, roster additions need to mesh well in the clubhouse. and to top it off there needs to be a fair amount of luck as well. None of those factors went the Pacifics way in 2016.

Baseball can be a funny game sometimes.

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