For the second consecutive year, the Corvallis Knights have won the West Coast League’s South Division.
Corvallis came back from one game down in a first-round series against the Yakima Valley Pippins to take the series, winning the decisive third game 3-2 Thursday night at Goss Stadium.
“We had some momentum,” said third baseman Zak Taylor. “We weren’t too worried about the first game. They had some things go their way. We knew we were gonna be back at home and that would be huge for us.”
It was, the Knights won games two and three by a combined score of 11-6 and outhit the Pippins 21-14.
The win clinched a West Coast League championship series berth. The best-of-3 series starts Saturday at Victoria, then moves to Corvallis for game two on Monday and, if necessary, game three on Tuesday.The best opening the best-of-3 Saturday at Victoria. Start time for the home games is 6:40 p.m.
The Knights tallied just three runs Thursday, but kept the Pippins at bay behind solid pitching performances by Connor Redmond, Miles Glazier and Kolby Somers.
The bottom of the seventh inning, with a 2-2 tie, proved to be decisive for the Knights.
Matt Kelly and Jordan Qsar opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Dillan Shrum walked on four pitches to load the bases with just one out for Taylor.
Taylor delivered a high fly ball to center field, deep enough for Kelly to tag and score from third.
“Honestly (Connor White) was struggling from the mound, throwing the ball in the dirt," Taylor said. "He threw four straight balls to Shrum ahead of me. I was looking for a pitch elevated, I kinda knew I was gonna get a heater on a 2-1 count. I knew off the bat it would be long enough to get (Kelly) home.”
It was the first run White had given up in his last 15 innings of work.
In a low-scoring affair, the slight edge was enough for the Knights to put away the Pippins for the fourth time in six days.
Both teams scored early but runs came few and far between as the game stretched on and the pitchers settled into their rhythms.
Taylor Travess lead off the bottom of the first with a walk. Kelly then hit a bomb to the deepest part of the park, but came up just short as the ball was caught on the warning track.
Travess advanced to third on an infield single hit by Qsar and was driven home by Shrum to give the Knights a quick 1-0 lead.
Yakima responded quickly as the first batter in the top of the second, Mitch Ellis, crushed a fastball to right field that just cleared the fence. It was Ellis’ first home run of the year.
A couple of scoreless frames later, Elliot Willy and Darren Nelson got the crowd back into the game with consecutive singles to open the fourth.
Willy was driven home by Chad Stevens, giving the Knights a 2-1 lead.
Troy Claunch laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Nelson to third.
Travess then drilled a would-be sacrifice fly to deep right field, but Nelson was controversially called out on appeal after tagging from third and seemingly scoring a third run for the Knights.
Knights manager Brooke Knight vigorously argued the call, following the umpire halfway to second base to make his case.
After giving up a hit to open the sixth, Knights starter Redmond was pulled from the game and replaced by Glazier. Redmond gave up one run on five hits through 5⅓ innings.
Glazier got in trouble in the seventh as Brad Beasley doubled for the second time in the game. Otsuka then singled to left, leveling the score at 2-2.
Following the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, Somers came in and threw lights out for two innings. The reliever only needed 16 pitches to record six outs, 14 of those were strikes.
“He got that breaking ball to land for him,” Taylor said of Somers. “He was commanding the fastball on both sides of the plate. He’s got really good stuff as a young guy, so that performance was big for him and it was obviously big for the team.”