Pippins’ Late Rally Comes Up Short
YAKIMA, Wash. – On Sunday night, the Yakima Valley Pippins trailed by three runs entering the bottom of the 9th inning, before putting together a four-run frame to stun the Kelowna Falcons. For a few tense moments on Monday night, it seemed that a repeat performance may have been in store. After trailing 5-0 entering the bottom of the 8th, the Pippins had battled back to get within two runs with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, and had one of their hottest hitters, Dillon Plew (Washington State), stepping into the batters’ box. Plew, who had already homered the previous inning, represented the winning run, and the crowd buzzed with excitement. One pitch, later, however, an anticlimactic pop-out to left field ended the game, as Kelowna beat the Pippins 5-3 to take both take the series and win their fifth game out of the two teams’ six matchups in 2017.
Early on, the game was a pitcher’s duel between Pippins right-hander, Kade Woods (Spokane Falls), and Kelowna’s starter, Cal Hehnke (Nebraska-Omaha), with each pitcher producing three scoreless frames. The Falcons (17-10) were able to finally break through for two runs off of Woods in the 4th on four hits, and then plated another three in the top of the 5th to take a commanding 5-0 lead.
In the bottom of the frame, it seemed that the Pippins (13-13) were going to answer, as Lucas Denney (Seattle U) singled to begin the frame, before Dustin Yates (Washington State) and Chase Wells (Seattle U) both walked, to load the bases with one out for Steve Sordahl (St. Martin’s). Sordahl, who came in 6th in the WCL in batting average and had hit better than .500 in his last five games proceeded to pop out to shallow center, making him 0 for 3 on the night. Plew, who came in just as hot as Sordahl, having driven in 10 runners in his past five WCL contests, also popped out, this time to third, to end the threat, and leave the bases stranded.
Having produced just four hits against Hehnke, the Pippins finally came to life when Braeden Toikka (Western Oklahoma State) entered in relief for Kelowna in the bottom of the 8th. After a Sordahl lineout, Plew worked the count full against the left-hander and then drove the eight pitch of the at-bat just inside the right field foul pole for the first Pippins run of the game. Bradlee Beesley (Cal Poly-SLO) followed Plew by lining a ball just inside the left field foul pole to give the Pippins back-to-back home runs and make the score 5-2 headed into the 9th.
With the score still 5-2 entering the 9th, the first two Pippins to bat in the frame, Denney and Tora Otsuka (San Diego), both struck out against Toikka, leaving the Pippins down to their final out for Yates, who quickly drew a four-pitch walk. Jonny DeLuca (Oregon), who pinch-hit for Wells, then grounded a ball down the third base line for an infield single, giving the Pippins runners at first and second with two outs for Sordahl.
Sordahl, who was 0 for 4 on the night, came through for the Pippins, lining a base hit up the middle to plate Yates and make it a 5-3 game with Plew coming up. Kelowna went to their bullpen and brought in right-hander, Jared Gray (Edmonds CC), to face Plew, who represented the winning run. Gray did not take long to win the battle, inducing a soft flyout on the first pitch to preserve the 5-3 victory and give Kelowna the series win.
Game Notes: Woods, who lasted at least six innings in each of his first four starts, lasted only five innings for the second straight outing, and allowed a season-high ten hits, along with five runs to take the loss and fall to 4-2. Hehnke, who was brilliant over the course of his seven innings of work, limiting the Pippins to just four hits while striking out three en route to earning the win to improve to 4-0 on the season. The Pippins got solid relief efforts from both Pete Minella (Western Illinois), who threw three scoreless innings, and Connor White (Columbia Basin), who struck out the side in the 9th.
The back-to-back home runs by Plew and Beesley were the first this season and the first in franchise history. Each hit his third home run of the season, respectively. With two more hits tonight, Beesley now has a streak of four consecutive multi-hit games. He extended his season-long and current team-long hitting streak to 11 games with a double in the 1st inning. Both Plew, with his home run in the 8th, and Sordahl, with his RBI single in the 9th, extended their hitting streaks to nine games. Sordahl snapped his streak of five consecutive multi-hit games, however, by going 1 for 5.
With the win, Kelowna took both series against the Pippins this season. They also swept the Pippins at home from June 17 to 19, meaning they went 5-1 overall, the best mark in their franchise history against Yakima Valley. The Pippins entered the season 16-8 all-time against Kelowna, with their worst single-season until this year coming in 2015, when they went 4-5 against the Falcons. Their best season came in 2014 when they won 8 of 9 matchups.
With the win, Kelowna concludes the first half at 17-10, which will be a game clear of the next closest team come Tuesday. They will have to wait for the Walla Walla Sweets, Bellingham Bells, and Kelowna Falcons to finish their final three games of the first half, however, before they officially clinch a playoff berth, as all three of those teams began Monday just one game back.
With the loss, the Pippins are back to .500 and have still not been more than one game above .500 the entire season. They also fell to 6-11 against North Division opponents this season, while they are 7-2 against the South.
What’s Next: Kelowna will await the results of Walla Walla, Bellingham and Wenatchee over the next three days to see whether they indeed clinched the first half playoff spot in the WCL North. They begin their second half of play at home on Tuesday night with the start of a three-game set against the Victoria HarbourCats.
The Pippins will finish the first half with one game in Walla Walla on Thursday. The Pippins and Sweets split the first two matchups of the season on June 20 and 21 and have each won 13 matchups head-to-head all-time. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. on Thursday at Borleske Stadium.
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. Yakima County Stadium will play host to the 2017 West Coast League All-Star Game, along with an extensive 31-game home season for Year No. 4 of Pippins' Baseball in 2017. Read more online at PippinsBaseball.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with #ThatWasAwesome.