VISALIA - It was the first time a Visalia club has seen the postseason since 2007, and this Visalia Rawhide team took the first step in seizing a California League Championship, beating the Modesto Nuts 4-2 on Wednesday night at Rawhide Ballpark. The Rawhide will have a chance to advance to the North Division Finals and face the San Jose Giants with another win on Thursday night in Modesto at John Thurman Field. If necessary, a decisive Game 3 will be played on Friday night in Modesto.
Both starters turned in solid performances for their respective teams, but it was Rawhide starter Eddie McKiernan (W, 1-0) who turned out to be a little bit sharper. McKiernan tossed 6.1 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while fanning two Nuts batters. He got off to a blistering start, facing the minimum number of batters through the first four frames. No Modesto runner was able to put themselves into scoring position until the fifth inning when Trevor Story stole second base after reaching on a fielder's choice.
David Peralta led off the second inning with a walk and Tom Belza reached on an error from Nuts starter Tyler Anderson (L, 0-1), who dropped a relay from his first baseman as he attempted to tag first base on a groundball. After Sean Jamieson moved both runners over on a sacrifice bunt, Ronnie Freeman singled to right field to score Peralta, and an errant throw from right fielder Jared Simon allowed Belza to come home and score, giving the 'Hide a 2-0 lead.
After Evan Marzilli reached on a fielder's choice in the fifth inning, Kevin Medrano singled to put runners at the corners with only one out. That set up the scoring opportunity for Gerson Montilla, who hit a sacrifice fly to center field, plating Evan Marzilli, extending the Rawhide lead to 3-0.
McKiernan ran into a bit of trouble in the seventh when he allowed a leadoff single to Jared Simon. Two batters later, he walked Will Swanner to put runners on first and second with only one away. Patrick Schuster was then summoned from the bullpen and did a great job to hold the Rawhide lead, striking out Harold Riggins and inducing a groundball out to Matt Wessinger to end the inning.
But the Nuts would finally find a way to get on the scoreboard in the eighth inning. Tyler Massey led off the inning with a single off reliever Kaleb Fleck. Taylor Featherston followed with a single to center field and as Massey rounded second to head for third, Marzilli's throw went into the Rawhide dugout, automatically bringing home Massey. Brian Humphries hit a sacrifice fly to left field to cut the Nuts deficit to one run, but Fleck got Ryan Casteel to ground out to third and struck out Jared Simon to hold the Rawhide lead at 3-2.
The Rawhide picked up some insurance in the bottom of the frame thanks to back-to-back leadoff singles from Montilla and Jake Lamb. David Peralta grounded out to second to move the runners over and Tom Belza provided the insurance run with a sacrifice fly RBI to right field, making it 4-2.
R.J. Hively (S, 1) was nearly flawless in the ninth, striking out the side while issuing a two-out walk to pick up the save and secure the victory.
Game 2 will be played at 7:05 on Thursday night in Modesto at John Thurman field. Postseason California League All-Star Andrew Barbosa will toe the rubber as he faces off against Chris Jensen of the Modesto Nuts.