Pippins Deliver Postseason Breakthrough in Year Four
YAKIMA, Wash. – The fourth season of Yakima Valley Pippins West Coast League baseball ends with something the previous three could not produce: a postseason victory. Their 9-3 game one win over the Corvallis Knights in the 2017 WCL South Divisional Playoffs was their first postseason victory in five tries. Of course, there were many other highlights along the way.
2017 Season in Review
The Pippins opened the 2017 season at home on June 2 against the Victoria HarbourCats and lost a season-opener for the first time. They bounced back quickly, scoring seven runs in the sixth inning of the second game of the series for their first win.
The Pippins entered the season with 96 franchise victories and set their sights on 100. They reached the 100 mark on June 13 with a 6-3 win over Wenatchee behind a complete game from Gabe Taylor.
Clutch hitting was a calling card of the 2017 Pippins, and the fans saw it first hand at The Orchard on June 14 when the Pippins used a five-run eighth, capped by a Mitch Ellis go-ahead double, to overcome a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Gresham GreyWolves 5-3.
Mid-June saw the Pippins on the road, where they were swept for the second time in franchise history by the Kelowna Falcons. The Pippins lost the first game of the next series against the Walla Walla Sweets, as their closer, Connor White, blew his first save of the season in an 8-7 loss, the Pippins’ second walk-off defeat in four games. The Pippins’ fourth straight loss dropped them to 6-10, a franchise worst four games below .500.
The Pippins rebounded to take the next game from the Sweets to snap their losing streak but they then lost their series opener on the road against Gresham on June 24. The next two games against Gresham marked a turning point. During those contests, the Pippins experienced an unprecedented offensive power surge as they hit five home runs. On June 25, the Pippins hit two home runs en route to a 10-8 victory. The next day, the Pippins hit three more. Tora Otsuka homered in both games, and, in the finale, Lucas Denney hit a go-ahead, three-run home run in the top of the tenth inning in what turned out to be the only extra inning game of the season for the Pippins.
Now just two games below .500, the Pippins carried their furious home run pace back to Yakima, crushing two home runs, including a go-ahead three-run blast in the fifth inning from Chase Wells, in an 8-5 series-opening win over Bend. The multi-home run streak came to a close in the second game of the series on June 28, but Dillon Plew still provided plenty of offensive fireworks as he ignited a sixth inning rally with a go-ahead three run home run in a 7-3 victory, the Pippins’ fourth consecutive win which brought the team back to .500 for the first time since June 16. In the series finale, the Pippins rolled to a 10-5 win behind a four-run first inning. The five-game winning streak improved the Pippins record to 12-11, good for second place in the WCL South, and pushed the team above .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 on June 6.
The Pippins lost three of four to close out the first half at 13-14, good for second place in the South, four games behind the first place Corvallis Knights. Their lone win during the closing stretch was one of their most exciting. In a back-and-forth offensive battle at home against Kelowna on July 2, the Pippins entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 13-10. The Pippins quickly loaded the bases with one out. Steve Sordahl singled through the right side to bring up Mitch Ellis. With the bases still full, and the Pippins trailing by two, Ellis drilled a walk-off double into right-center field, clearing the bases. The 14-13 win turned out to be the Pippins’ only walk-off of the season.
The second half began with a home victory over Cowlitz, but the Pippins then dropped the next two.
The Pippins’ first road trip of the second half took them to Victoria on July 11, where their comeback staging ability was again on full display. After falling behind 6-1 heading into the second inning of game one, the Pippins scored 11 unanswered runs, including a mammoth home run from Brad Beesley, and prevailed 12-6. The Pippins got two home runs from Lucas Denney in the second game, the first multi-home run game for a Pippins batter since July 2014 and the third in franchise history. Still, the Pippins fell 13-10. The rubber game turned out to be the coming out party for the Pippins’ late-June acquisition, right-hander, Taylor Dollard. Dollard was sensational, allowing three runs and six hits over 6 1/3 innings, and the Pippins came away with a 6-3 victory for a crucial road series win.
Another ferry ride took the Pippins, now 3-3 in the second half, to Bellingham for a pre-All-Star break series with the Bells. After a one run loss in the series opener on July 14, the Pippins got a go-ahead single from Nick Plaia in the top of the eighth of game two, which gave them a 5-4 win. Despite hitting three home runs for the second time, the Pippins dropped the rubber game 11-5, finishing their road trip at 3-3.
Despite heading into the All-Star break with a 4-5 second half record, there was plenty to celebrate at Yakima County Stadium on July 17 and 18, as the Pippins hosted the West Coast League All-Star festivities for the first time in franchise history. Six Pippins joined the South squad (Denney, Daniel Cope, Ellis, Plew, Sordahl, White), the second most among WCL teams. Denney was also chosen to represent the Pippins in the home run derby as part of Monday’s Fan Fest. Ultimately, the South came out on top for the third straight season, propelled by hits from Plew and Sordahl and a scoreless first inning from White.
The Pippins, having already tied their previous single-season home run record with 24 long balls before the All-Star break, did not take long to get number 25, as Dustin Yates belted a two-run blast against the Wenatchee AppleSox on July 19, in the Pippins first game after the All-Star break. Denney added a solo shot, and the Pippins held on for a 5-4 win in the first game of the series and proceeded to sweep the series in a pair of close decisions. The sweep moved the Pippins over .500 for the first time since July 2 and moved them to two games above .500 in a half for the first time all season.
After taking just one of three games at home in their next series against Corvallis, the Pippins ventured to Bend on July 25, and earned a dramatic series-opening win. After squandering a three-run lead going into the ninth inning, the Pippins rallied behind a Denney RBI single to take the lead secure the win. However, losses in the next two games dropped the Pippins back to .500, three games behind the league leading Cowlitz Black Bears, with nine to play.
With their backs to the wall, the Pippins answered the bell. Back at The Orchard for their final home series of the season against Port Angeles, the offense went to work in the series opener on July 29, as Otsuka blasted the first Pippins grand slam since July 2014 in the second inning en route to a 12-7 win. In game two, Anthony Alvarado made his first start of the season, and was brilliant, throwing the first complete game shutout for the Pippins since last July, while allowing just two hits in the 8-0 win. The Pippins then completed their third sweep of the season with a 7-5 win, propelled by a six-run fifth inning.
Now 12-9, the Pippins began a six game, season-ending road trip against the top two teams in the South Division, Cowlitz and Corvallis. The Pippins, who trailed the Black Bears by one game in the South second half standings, earned a crucial 1-0 victory in the first game of their series, behind a spectacular pitching performance from Taylor Dollard. Dollard threw eight scoreless innings while striking out a Pippins’ season-high nine batters. Brad Beesley, Dollard’s future Cal Poly teammate, supplied the only run of the game, a go-ahead home run with two outs in the top of the eighth inning. The following night, the Pippins earned a dominant 10-1 win, raising their second half record to 14-9 and their overall season record to 27-23. At 14-9, the Pippins had also matched Corvallis atop the WCL South second half standings, the first time they had held a share of a division lead.
The Pippins could not relax for long, however, as they proceeded to lose the final game of the Cowlitz series and the first game of their season-ending series against first-place Corvallis, meaning their season was once again on the brink. At that point, the Pippins stood 1.5 games back of Corvallis and were even with Cowlitz and Bend in the second half standings, with a loss potentially knocking them out of playoff contention.
On August 5, in the second game of their series with Corvallis, the Pippins trailed the entire night and entered the top of the ninth behind 5-4 and facing off against Corvallis’ All-Star closer, Chase Kaplan, a hard throwing left hander who had not blown a save opportunity or taken a loss all season long, and who had shut the Pippins down a night earlier. With one out, the Pippins put a pair of runners aboard. After the runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch, Mitch Ellis, tried to lay down a squeeze bunt to score Brad Beesley, the potential tying run at third, but Corvallis played it perfectly and nailed Beesley at home.
With two outs and runners at first and second, Steve Sordahl stepped in against Kaplan and calmly ripped a go-ahead two-run double to put the Pippins ahead and keep the chances of a playoff berth alive. After Connor White worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his WCL-leading 11th (and final) save of the season, the Pippins had themselves a crucial road win that ultimately clinched them their third postseason berth in their four year franchise history.
The Pippins closed out the regular season at 28-26 to edge out Cowlitz for the final playoff spot in the WCL South, earning a rematch against the defending champion Corvallis Knights who swept them in the 2016 Divisional Round.
The Pippins got off to a great start in game one, taking an 8-0 lead in the fourth and rolling to a 9-3 victory for their first postseason win. The Pippins got contributions up and down the lineup, as three players had two hits in the game, with Denney and Sordahl each tallying three. Dollard went 5 2/3 innings to earn the win for the Pippins, his seventh and final win of the season.
The series shifted to Corvallis for game two and despite the Pippins drawing even with Corvallis at 4-4 after an early three-run deficit, the Knights were able to plate four unanswered runs late to force a decisive game three.
In the rubber game, with the winner set to advance to the WCL Championship Series, the Knights struck first with a run in the home half of the opening frame. The Pippins drew even immediately, however, on Ellis’ first home run of the season, a solo shot to begin the second. Corvallis then answered with a run on three hits in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, an advantage they maintained until the top of the seventh inning when the Pippins rallied to tie the game. With two outs, Beesley doubled and was knocked in by a Tora Otsuka single to tie the score at 2. Corvallis, as they had done in the fourth, answered immediately, loading the bases against White, who had come on in the sixth, before getting a go-ahead sacrifice fly to take a 3-2 lead. The Pippins did not have an answer against a Corvallis bullpen that allowed just one run in the entire series, and went down in order in the eighth and ninth innings, as their season came to a close in Corvallis for the second consecutive season.
Season Notes: The Pippins finished the regular season at 28-26 which included a 13-14 first half record and a 15-12 second half mark. The Pippins were one of the best home teams in the entire WCL, finishing with the leagues’ second best home record at 17-10. Their 17 home wins were the most in franchise history matching their 2014 total. The Pippins finished just 11-16 on the road, however, their worst single-season mark away from home. Their previous low for road wins had been 15 in 2015, when they went 15-12 on the road.
The Pippins broke many franchise single-season records in 2017, most notably their 32 regular season home runs which broke their previous single-season high of 24 in 2014. The Pippins also hit 12 home runs at Yakima County Stadium, five more than in 2014 when they hit just seven. In all, 12 different Pippins homered over the course of the regular season, with seven players hitting two or more.
The Pippins set new single-season marks for batting average (.284), which ranked second in the WCL and slugging percentage (.398), along with new highs in hits and doubles.
Although the Pippins struggled on the mound at times, recording their highest ERA in a single-season in franchise history at 4.69, the back end of their bullpen was sensational. The Pippins led the WCL with 17 saves, a franchise record. White provided 11 of those saves and left-hander, Pete Minella, provided solid bullpen work, as did many others.
End of Season Player Rundowns
There were many spectacular individual performances throughout the Yakima Valley Pippins’ 2017 WCL season, from record-setting performances to clutch-hits, to new streaks.
Tora Otsuka finished the regular season riding a 13-game hitting streak and hit safely in his final 14 road contests. Additionally, Otsuka reached base in the team’s final 27 games, the longest mark in Pippins’ franchise history and the second longest in the WCL this season. Otsuka, hit safely in 20 of his final 21 regular season games (23 of 24 including the playoffs), and batted .433 (36 for 83) over that span. He finished the season with a .332 batting average, tied for seventh in the WCL. He also finished with 14 multi-hit games, tied with Steve Sordahl for the team lead. Additionally, Otsuka produced the Pippins’ first grand slam since 2014 on July 29 against Port Angeles. Otsuka, who will be a freshman at San Diego in the fall, reached base and hit safely in each of the Pippins’ final three postseason contests, ending the season with a 30-game on-base streak and a 16-game hitting streak, with two more multi-hit contests in the playoffs to finish with 16.
Steve Sordahl, who started 41 games for the Pippins in center field, had a stretch of five multi-hit games that lasted from June 27 to July 2. He batted .542 during that stretch (13 for 24) with three, three-hit games. Sordahl finished the season at .289, with two home runs and 27 RBI. On August 5, he delivered the biggest hit of the Pippins’ regular season via a go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) two-out, two-run double in the top of the ninth inning to propel the Pippins to a 6-5 win over Corvallis to keep their season alive. A rising senior at St. Martin’s, Sordahl finished with 15 multi-hit games, including a three-hit, 4 RBI outing in game one of the South Divisional Round series.
Lucas Denney, whose eight home runs finished as the fourth most in the WCL and whose 34 RBI led the Pippins, produced several huge performances, including his go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the tenth inning of a Pippins’ 10-6 road win against Gresham on June 26. Denney’s finest performance of the regular season, however, came on July 12 at Victoria, when he went 4 for 4 with two home runs, the first multi-home run game for a Pippins batter since August 9, 2014. Denney finished sixth in the WCL in hitting at .338, with 13 multi-hit contests and ten multi-RBI games. A redshirt senior at Seattle University who missed all of last season recovering from a broken leg, Denney’s 2017 campaign, which included a WCL All-Star Selection, was among the Pippins’ best.
Mitch Ellis led the Pippins with 45 starts, and began the season by hitting safely in the team’s first 13 games, matching Otsuka for the Pippins’ longest regular season hitting streak. He also finished the season having reached base safely in 18 consecutive games. Ellis, a switch-hitter entering his senior year at Western Illinois, produced the Pippins’ only walk-off of the regular season when he hit a bases clearing double in the bottom of the ninth against Kelowna on July 2. He finished the regular season hitting .289 with 31 runs batted in, second-most on the team to Denney. Ellis also had a great postseason, which included hitting his first home run of the season during the decisive game three of the South Divisional Playoffs.
Brad Beesley had a red-hot start to his Pippins’ campaign. After going 0 for 4 in his Pippins debut on June 18 against Kelowna, he hit safely in 13 of his next 14 games, while raising his average as high as .392 on July 3. Beesley, who came to Yakima after a Freshman All-American campaign at Cal Poly where he was also named a Second-Team Big West Selection, hit one of the most crucial home runs for the Pippins during the regular season, a solo-shot with two outs in the top of the eighth inning in a 1-0 Pippins’ win over Cowlitz on August 1. After not hitting a single home run as a freshman, Beesley finished the West Coast League regular season with seven long balls, the second most on the team, and was one of just three Pippins to bat .300. He went five for 12 in the postseason with a pair of doubles in game three against Corvallis.
Dillon Plew, whose season came to an end on July 31, produced 13 multi-hit games, the second most on the team, and hit a crucial go-ahead three-run home run in a June 28 win for the Pippins over the Bend Elks. Plew also gave the Pippins an ability to play multiple infield positions, as he started at least ten games at first, second and third base. The sophomore-to-be at Washington State finished the season hitting .295 with three home runs and 24 driven in, and was selected as the WCL Player of the Week for his efforts from June 26 to July 2, when over the midst of the Pippins’ five-game winning streak, he went 13 for 27, with a home run and ten runs batted in.
Jonny DeLuca tied Sordahl for the team-lead with five three-hit games and solidified himself atop the Pippins batting order, leading off 14 of the Pippins’ last 15 regular season games. A rising freshman at Oregon, DeLuca stole 11 of 12 bases, finishing one shy of Otsuka for the team lead. DeLuca, a switch-hitter, finished with a .287 batting average in the regular season, with two home runs and 19 runs batted in.
Tyler Bosetti hit safely in nine of his last ten regular season games, hitting .394 over that stretch (13 for 33). He also hit safely in the Pippins’ first two playoff games. The Vacaville native, who will head to Reno in the fall, started 13 of the Pippins’ final 14 games (including playoffs) at shortstop.
Chase Wells hit just at a .222 clip for the Pippins, but provided one of the teams’ biggest hits of the regular season with his go-ahead three-run blast in the fifth inning against Bend on June 27.
Nick Plaia had a mid-July, six-game hitting streak which included four multi-hit contests, including a go-ahead single in the top of the eighth inning on July 15 in Bellingham that propelled the Pippins to a 5-4 road win. A rising sophomore at Cal Baptist, Plaia also hit a two-run home run, his only long ball of the season, the following night.
Daniel Cope came on strong at the end of the regular season with three multi-hit games in his last six. The sophomore-to-be at Cal State Fullerton showed off his power with a two-run home run on July 16 in Bellingham and at times flashed brilliance behind the plate.
Dustin Yates tallied four multi-hit games and hit the Pippins’ 25th home run of the season, a two-run line-drive blast down the right field line at Yakima County Stadium on July 19 against Wenatchee, that broke the Pippins’ single-season franchise record of 24 that was set back in their inaugural season of 2014.
Pippins who did not finish the season with the team but played key roles include infielder, Michael Wyatt (Columbia Basin), who batted .400 and hit safely in 12 of the 14 games he played with the Pippins, and catcher, Tyler Sandoval (Colorado Mesa), who finished with a pair of home runs in his 17 games played while also throwing out six base runners.
As far as the pitching, closer, Connor White, solidified himself as one of the best relievers in the WCL, leading the league with 11 saves and holding a 1.13 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks. White did not allow a run in his last 14 1/3 innings worked over his last 11 appearances of the regular season and blew just two save opportunities. He also worked himself out of a bases-loaded jam in an 8-5 win for the Pippins over Bend on July 25, a game in which he walked the first three batters of the ninth before striking out the next three to earn the win. White, who will become a junior at Portland in the fall after spending his first two seasons with Columbia Basin, saw his scoreless innings streak come to a close at 15 2/3 innings when he allowed the go-ahead run to Corvallis in game three of the Divisional Playoffs.
Left-handed reliever, Pete Minella, who made his Pippins debut on July 1, was rock solid over the course of the regular season, allowing just three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, while striking out 21 and walking just four. Minella, who will become a red-shirt junior at Western Illinois in the fall, held a 0.94 ERA and was dominant against left-handed hitters, who batted just .170 against him.
Taylor Dollard, who made his Pippins WCL debut on June 26 against Gresham, was superb, winning six of his seven regular season appearances (including his first five) while holding a 1.92 ERA. In 32 2/3 innings, Dollard struck out 24 and walked just five. His six wins tied for the WCL lead, and Dollard was the only six-game winner to finish without a loss. His finest outing was on August 1 against Cowlitz, when he threw eight scoreless innings, in a huge game that kept the Pippins’ playoff hopes alive. Dollard struck out a Pippins’ individual pitcher season-high nine batters and allowed just two hits in the game, earning WCL Pitcher of the Week honors. His 1.92 ERA was the second-lowest among WCL pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Dollard, who will become a freshman at Cal Poly-SLO in the fall, also earned the first win for a pitcher in Pippins’ postseason history, when he allowed just three runs over 5 2/3 innings in the Pippins’ 9-3, game one victory over Corvallis on August 8.
A.J. Landis (Colorado Mesa), who led the WCL with 65 innings pitched and 11 starts, was masterful over the course of his final five outings, earning two wins over 29 2/3 innings of work, with a 2.47 ERA. He ultimately dropped his ERA from 5.01, after a loss to Kelowna on July 1, all the way down to 3.84, following his August 5 outing at Corvallis, Landis, who will be a junior with the Mavericks in the fall, finished the season with 39 strikeouts and 16 walks.
Anthony Alvarado, a reliever for most of the season, had made his first start on July 30, a complete game shutout against Port Angeles, the first complete game shutout for a Pippins’ pitcher since July 8, 2016, and the second complete game of the season for a Pippins hurler, joining Gabe Taylor (Dixie State), who accomplished the feat in Wenatchee on June 13. Alvarado, who is undecided where he will attend school in the fall after finishing his first two years at Columbia Basin, held a 2.67 ERA over the course of his three starts.
Of note among other Pippins’ pitchers was Kade Woods (Lewis-Clark State), who began his season with a 3-1 record and a 3.80 ERA over four starts while striking out 21 and walking just four. Josh Tedeschi (Utah) also gave the Pippins quality starts early on, and finished as the team’s regular season leader in strikeouts with 42.
While the 2017 version of the Yakima Valley Pippins had a terrific season, coming up just a game short of appearing in the WCL Championship Series, you can bet year number five will be even better. We hope to see all of you at The Orchard in a little less than ten months!
ABOUT THE PIPPINS: The Yakima Valley Pippins compete in the West Coast League, one of the nation’s premier summer collegiate wood bat leagues. The Pippins play their home games at Yakima County Stadium (“The Orchard”) in Yakima, Washington. After winning 96 games during their first three seasons in the WCL, the Pippins set the mark as the winningest WCL expansion team after three years, and won their 100th game on June 13, 2017, to become the third-fastest WCL franchise to reach 100 wins. Yakima County Stadium recently played host to the 2017 West Coast League All-Star. Read more online at PippinsBaseball.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with #ThatWasAwesome.