WENATCHEE — It was a tough West Coast League Championship Series opener for the Wenatchee AppleSox against the Corvallis Knights on Saturday as the Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth — the potential winning run standing on first — just to log consecutive strikeouts, sealing a 3-1 loss.
The AppleSox offense struggled all game while starter Davis Engel kept his team in the game against the usually-explosive Knights at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium. The home team couldn’t complete a ninth-inning comeback and will now need to win the last two games in Oregon if the team is to repeat as West Coast League champions.
“They put up a few runs early and their pitcher kind of shut us down until the last inning,” Engel said. “It’s hard to win a ball game with just one run, you know?”
Soon-to-be UCLA Bruin Brett Stevens led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk to bring the tying run to the plate. After a Grant Palmer strikeout, center fielder Brock Slavin ripped a double to the left-center power alley to put men on second and third. The Knights intentionally walked Connor Spencer — the runner-up for the league’s batting title — to load the bases and end Naderer’s night.
“They rolled the dice — which wasn’t a bad idea — putting a player-of-the-year type guy on base, which is the winning run,” Wenatchee head coach Ed Knaggs said. “But you know what (Spencer) can do, and you want to make the other guys beat you.”
The Knights brought in a right-handed reliever to face Stockton Taylor, who struck out on a full count. Then Corvallis brought in a lefty to face Joey Jansen, who struck out looking to end the game.
“We got poor at-bats at the end,” Knaggs said.
The Knights started the scoring in the top of the second, when Engel surrendered three straight hits. Kavin Keyes started with a single to center, then Joey Duffin hit the ball as far as someone can without it leaving the park to center for a double.
Chris Rabago plated Keyes with a single to right, and after a strikeout, Blake Drake brought Duffin home on a base hit through the left side of the infield to give Corvallis a 2-0 lead.
“As it started out, I thought we were going to be in trouble a little bit because they were banging Davis up a little bit,” Knaggs said. “When he was down they were making him pay.”
Corvallis’ bottom part of the lineup struck again in the top of the fourth to add another run. Rabago hit a single, made it to third on a single and fielder’s choice and scored on a Peter Van Gansen base hit up the middle.
“We shouldn’t have given up a run in the fourth,” Knaggs said, indicating he thought the team should’ve turned the double play.
The AppleSox offense struggled mightily. Corvallis starter Andrew Naderer limited the Sox to just one hit and four baserunners through seven frames. Wenatchee couldn’t even reach the outfield as 24 of the team’s 27 outs were strikeouts or groundouts.
Jansen broke up Naderer’s five-inning streak without giving up a hit in the eighth when Wenatchee’s designated hitter pulled a fly ball that carried over the wall for a solo home run. Eric Hutting followed with a single, but a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play took him off the bases to kill the rally.
“He obviously thought the ball got farther away than it did. He thought he ran better than does, and he forgot that (Knights catcher) Rabago can really throw,” Knaggs said. “That’s three things he forgot right then.”
The AppleSox will travel to Oregon today and play game two on Monday. Trevor Lubking will get the start in the must-win contest. Lubking had his worst start of the summer in Corvallis on July 9, when the lefty lasted only four innings, surrendering nine runs on 12 hits.
“He’s thrown well since,” Knaggs said. “I would like to think he’s going to go down there and throw well. He threw there last year. It’s not a new atmosphere for him.”
Knaggs is hoping his team responds well to being in a backs-against-the-wall situation.
“We have to scramble a little bit, going down there,” the skipper said. “I like who we’re throwing. We just have to go down and play well one time and try to extend the season.”
Although the Sox suffered a tough defeat, Engel’s confidence in his team remained after the game.
“That was a heartbreaker, but at least we put up a fight,” he said. “Now we’re going to go to Corvallis and win two, so it’s all right.”