MODESTO - For the first time since 2007, Visalia will play in the North Division Finals for a chance to go to the California League Championship round. The Rawhide capped a series sweep of the Modesto Nuts on Thursday night at John Thurman Field with a thrilling, extra-innings 3-2 win over the second half division champs.
Modesto came into the playoffs as the hottest team in the California League, winning 18 of their last 22 regular season games. They hadn't lost back-to-back games since August 9th and 10th when they faced the Stockton Ports. It seemed like they couldn't be stopped...that was until they ran into this Visalia Rawhide team.
After Gerson Montilla led off the 12th inning with an single, Tom Belza delivered the go-ahead RBI-double off Nuts reliever Patrick Johnson (L, 0-1) to score Montilla and put the Rawhide up 3-2. Conrad Flynn (W, 1-0) closed it out with a perfect 12th inning to send the 'Hide on to the next round. Flynn was spectacular in relief, tossing three scoreless innings and allowing just one batter to reach base.
Flynn was asked to take over after the Rawhide gave up a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning, when Will Swanner hit a solo home run off R.J. Hively (BS, 1) to tie it up.
Rawhide starter Andrew Barbosa pitched very well, allowing only one hit through his first four innings of work. He pitched 5.1 innings in total, surrendering one earned run on four hits and one walk while striking out seven batters.
The Rawhide grabbed the lead in the 2nd inning on an RBI-double from Ryan Stovall, plating Tom Belza who had singled and stole second base earlier in the inning.
Jake Lamb would tack on another run with an RBI-single to center field, bringing home Evan Marzilli.
Barbosa allowed a leadoff single to Tyler Massey to start the bottom of the 6th and a wild pitch allowed Massey to move into scoring position. Barbosa was pulled from the game after he struck out Taylor Featherston. A two-out RBI-single from Jared Simon plated Massey and put the Nuts on the board, making it 2-1.
R.J. Hively could not save the game in the 9th, allowing a one-out homer to Will Swanner to tie the game. But Conrad Flynn held strong in extras, giving the Rawhide offense enough time to win the game. The Rawhide had the bases loaded in the 11th after drawing a walk, hitting a groundball single and drawing another walk, but couldn't punch in the go-ahead run.
But they got their opportunity in the 12th inning and Tom Belza delivered when the Rawhide needed him to most. Flynn induced three straight ground balls to secure the victory and finish off the series.
The Rawhide will play Games 1 and 2 in San Jose this Saturday and Sunday. They will host Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) here at Rawhide Ballpark this Monday and Tuesday, with first pitch scheduled for 6 pm on both days.