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Owlz survive on Lopez's clutch hit09/13/2008 1:42 AM ET
By John Torenli / Special to MLB.com
After going hitless in his first six at-bats Friday night, Orem's Roberto Lopez again proved why he is the Pioneer League's Most Valuable Player.
The 22-year-old first baseman delivered a walk-off single in the 13th inning as the defending champion Owlz forced a decisive third game in the Pioneer League Championship Series with a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Great Falls Voyagers.
"I didn't think I was going to go 0-for-tonight," Lopez admitted. "I felt myself pressing a little bit too much. But my teammates all trusted me and, luckily, I was the guy."
Lopez, who batted .400 with 14 homers and 72 RBIs during the regular season, was enduring his worst night as a professional in Orem's biggest game of the year.
The 6-foot, 195-pound San Diego native flied out in the first, struck out in the third, grounded out in the fifth and eighth and had his drive to deep right field flagged down by Lyndon Estill with the winning run on second in the ninth.
"I thought that was going to be it right there," Lopez said. "But they were playing no-doubles and they got me right there."
After striking out again in the 12th, Lopez got yet another chance to redeem himself.
Jon Townsend led off the 13th with a single to right but remained there as Beau Brooks struck out and Darwin Perez flied to right. Ivan Contreras followed with an apparent inning-ending grounder to shortstop, but Lee Fischer booted it, bringing Lopez to the plate for the seventh time.
"That was definitely a sign right there," Lopez said of the error. "[Right fielder] Angel Castillo told me that I was going to be the one to decide the game. We were all battling and I didn't want to let my teammates down."
This time, the Angels' 25th-round pick in June's First-Year Player Draft came through, smacking a hard grounder through the right side of the infield to plate Townsend with the winning run.
"My buddies kept telling me that they wanted to see the Roberto that they had seen all season," Lopez said. "I kept my swing short and quick and took it to right."
As the crowd of 2,676 went wild, Lopez and his teammates had to feel fortunate that they had not been swept out of the series.
The Voyagers appeared on the verge of wrapping up their first championship since 2002 and avenging last year's sweep at the hands of the Owlz after starter Kevin Skogley limited the league's best offense to four hits over eight scoreless frames. He struck out seven and walked one.
But Dan Remenowsky was unable to protect a 1-0 lead in the ninth as Tyson Auer walked and scored on Townsend's one-out double to left.
Mike Grace, who broke a scoreless deadlock with an RBI single in the sixth, led off the 11th with his first postseason homer to give the Voyagers a 2-1 lead. But the resilient Owlz would not go away.
Ryan Kiniry led off the bottom of the frame with a single, stole second with one out and advanced to third when Grace's throw went into center field. Beau Brooks followed with a game-tying double to right as Orem again kept its season alive.
Michael Kown (1-0) held the Voyagers to one hit while striking out four over the next two innings before Lopez's dramatic hit in the 13th moved the Owlz within a victory of their fourth title in five years.
"We're all really excited," Lopez said. "We've come this far, we've battled through a lot the entire season. Tomorrow's game is going to decide it. Today was a spectacular game for both teams, pitching-wise. Now everybody is ready for tomorrow. I could play another game right now."
William Smith did his best to keep Orem within striking distance, yielding an unearned run on eight hits with seven strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings.
Townsend finished 3-for-6 for the Owlz, who pulled out a 9-7 Game 3 victory over Ogden on Monday to reach the Finals.
Fischer went 4-for-6 for Great Falls, which swept Billings in the opening round.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.