But they failed to convert at the right times, going just 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The 'Cats (5-10) stranded 11 runners, which was one too many. They fell to Connecticut (9-6) in front of 3,501 fans at Joe Bruno Stadium on Friday night, 5-4.
The ValleyCats battled back from a three-run deficit and seemed poised to tie the game in the eighth. Dan Adamson led off the inning with a triple to deep center field, and Oscar Figueroa brought him home with a double, cutting the Tigers' lead to one run.
With one out, Ben Orloff poked a ground ball through the right side. Londell Taylor picked up the ball in shallow right field as Figueroa rounded third, but manager and third-base coach Jim Pankovits waived the shortstop home. The throw was in time, and while Figueroa avoided the initial tag, he also slid past the base, and Julio Rodriguez applied the tag when he recovered.
"We've been struggling to score runs, and I thought I'd make [Taylor] make a play," Pankovits said. "He's got the best arm of their outfielders, but he needed to make a good throw, and he did."
Mike Kvasnicka grounded out to end the inning, and the 'Cats would never again threaten. Kevan Hess retired the home team in order in the ninth inning to nail down the save.
Jake Buchanan retired the game's first two batters with ease, but the Tigers mounted a two-out rally when third baseman Josh Ashenbrenner was hit by a 1-2 pitch. Julio Rodriguez and James Robbins followed with singles, the latter bringing home Ashenbrenner with the game's first run.
Connecticut tagged Buchanan for another score in the next inning. Les Smith hit what appeared to be an innocent grounder to first, but the ball bounced over Tyler Burnett's head for a double. Brett Anderson followed with a single to plate Smith.
"We got a couple bad breaks," Buchanan said. "[Smith's hit] took a bad hop and led to a run, but that's going to happen. A hit here and there, and this would have been a different game."
The righty would get through the third and fourth innings unscathed before Taylor took Buchanan deep in the fifth. Buchanan was credited with the loss, his first decision of the season.
Free passes again led to trouble in the next two innings. Adam Champion's first pitch of the sixth inning hit James Robbins, who would score on Anderson's two-out single. The next inning, PJ Polk drew a leadoff walk off Brandt Walker, stole second and third base, and scored on an Alex Nunez sacrifice fly for the eventual game-winning run.
The ValleyCats scored in every inning from the fifth through eighth, but left two more runners on base in each frame. Dan Adamson drew a walk to lead off the fifth inning, scoring on a ground ball by Enrique Hernandez. A two-out rally fueled by another base on balls gave Tri-City its second run, as Adam Bailey came around on singles by Adamson and Figueroa.
Patience was the key to the hosts' seventh-inning rally, as reliever Tyler White threw 26 pitches to five Tri-City batters. Ben Orloff saw ten of those to draw a leadoff walk, and Mike Kvasnicka singled two batters later, breaking a 13-at-bat hitless streak. Ben Heath capped a seven-pitch at-bat with a ground ball right at Brett Anderson, but the shortstop booted the ball to load the bases. Burnett then saw seven more pitches, the last of which was ball four, bringing Orloff home.
"We're trying to be selective," Orloff said. "The plan is not to run up pitch counts, but to pick our zones. When [pitches] aren't coming there, we're running up pitch counts."
But with the bases loaded and one out, the Tigers were able to escape yet another jam. Reliever Michael Torrealba got his first batter, Bailey, to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Tri-City featured a different defensive alignment than usual. Kvasnicka caught for the first time as a professional, while Orloff started at shortstop for the first time since last July. The alignment worked, as the ValleyCats played error-free ball. Orloff started a terrific double play to end the fourth inning, snaring a grounder up the middle and flipping it to Hernandez, who caught it barehanded and relayed the ball to first in time to double up Anderson.
Brennan Smith puzzled the home team through the first four innings, allowing only three runners to reach base. But the righty was pulled from the game after four innings and deprived of the win due to a pitch count.
The 'Cats look to win their first series of the season tomorrow night as they take on the Tigers for the third and final time this homestand. Top starter Carlos Quevedo (0-1, 2.20 ERA) pitches against Clemente Mendoza (1-1, 4.08), a rematch of starters from Opening Day.