Drive for five
AppleSox win fifth title with Game 3 win over Knights
Saturday, August 18, 2012
WENATCHEE — In a championship series where weird became the norm and any semblance of clean baseball went out the window, the Wenatchee AppleSox took home their fifth West Coast League championship in the zaniest game of them all.
The Sox defeated the Corvallis Knights 8-3 on Saturday in front of 1,070 fans at Paul Thomas Sr. Stadium in the third and decisive game of the West Coast League Championship Series.
Taylor Sparks broke open a two-run game with a three-run inside-the-park home run in the fourth inning after Corvallis center fielder Connor Hofmann lost the medium-deep fly ball in the lights and against the low-hanging clouds.
The ball landed some 60 feet to a helpless Hofmann’s left as Mitchell Gunsolus, Ty Moore and Sparks raced around the bases.
“I didn’t even see the ball. I was just running as hard as I could,” said Sparks, who got a little bit of poetic justice after he dropped a ball in Game 1 that turned into three runs for the Knights. “When I saw the ball hit the ground I just kept running as hard as I could. It was pretty exciting.”
“There’s always that 10-to-15 minute window when you get that twilight behind home plate and it makes it tough to see on balls hit straight up,” Corvallis manager Brooke Knight said. “We needed to do a little bit more to help ourselves than we did tonight.”
The AppleSox had rallied to take a 5-3 lead after Corvallis countered a three-run Wenatchee first inning with three of its own in the top of the second.
The AppleSox touched up Corvallis starter Trevor Frank, who entered the game with a 0.47 earned run average and threw a complete-game two-hitter against Cowlitz in his last playoff start.
“He wasn’t as sharp as he’s been, but I still thought he had plenty of stuff to get it done,” Knight said of Frank. “Those three early runs hurt, but we had plenty of arms lined up behind him.”
While the Knights unraveled, Wenatchee starter Derek Callahan got stronger as the night went on.
After a tough second inning in which he threw 29 pitches and surrendered a pair of unearned runs, Callahan retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced. He was replaced by Tony Bryant after allowing consecutive singles to Chris Rabago and Hofmann in the top of the seventh, but Bryant struck out Dane Lund and Hofmann was caught stealing to end the threat.
After a 1-2-3 eighth, Bryant came on to start the ninth with WCL single-season saves leader Tyler Kane ready in the bullpen.
“We decided to let Tony go,” Wenatchee manager Ed Knaggs said. “Tyler was ready, but Tony was rolling along and Tyler hadn’t been real good when he’s got a huge cushion like that. Either way we had a huge amount of confidence in both of those guys.”
Bryant got Caleb Whalen to ground out to shortstop to open the ninth, and after giving up consecutive singles, Rabago flied out to right off Bryant for the second out.
In a wrenching twist for the Knights, Hofmann came to the plate against Bryant representing Corvallis’ final hope.
Bryant, who pitched for the Knights’ last summer, struck out Hofmann on a 2-2 changeup as the AppleSox mobbed the 6-foot-7 hurler on the mound.
“I didn’t expect to be out there at the end, because Tyler has been such a lockdown closer for us,” said Bryant, who joined the AppleSox on July 15. “But they gave me the ball and the coaches and my teammates had confidence in me, and it worked out for the best.”
It was an odd series the whole way through, with Wenatchee nearly giving up a 6-1 first-inning lead before escaping in Game 1 and then committing seven errors in a Game 2 loss.
But Saturday’s fourth inning topped them both, as Corvallis fielders lost three consecutive balls in the lights and all dropped for Wenatchee hits.
The miscues, in addition to the four wild pitches thrown by Corvallis pitchers in the game, wound up to be very costly for the Knights.
“The five-run lead changes everything,” Knaggs said. “I told the guys win or lose it was a phenomenal summer. The kids that come here to play have talent, but it was neat to see the way they became a team and enjoyed playing with each other.”
The Sox also sent pitching coach Rob Hippi out a winner in his last game with the club.
Hippi will be moving on to a position with Central Washington, his alma mater, in the fall.
“I wouldn’t have felt as good as I do now if we didn’t win that last game,” Hippi said. “The seven years I’ve spent here, with the four championships, have been a highlight of my coaching career.”
Knights 6, AppleSox 2
On Friday, host Wenatchee committed seven errors — although some of the plays on which errors were charged would have been tremendous had they been made — and didn’t take advantage of its few offensive opportunities in a 6-2 loss in front of 1,263 fans on a muggy evening.
Greg Mahle made just his second start of the summer for the Knights — his first was a no-hitter vs. Cowlitz on Aug. 3 — and used his changeup to keep AppleSox hitters off-balance for 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball.
“My changeup is my best pitch, and for the most part I did a good job of keeping the ball down,” said Mahle, who also went 1-for-4 with an RBI at the plate. “I had all four pitches working — fastball, curve, change and slider — and my defense played great behind me.”
Wenatchee could not say the same.
The seven charged errors turned into three unearned runs for Corvallis, which never trailed in the game and scored twice in the third and once in the fourth off Wenatchee starter James Kaprielian.
Brian Adamowsky: 664-7157
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