Great Falls, MT-The Voyagers 2018 season featured its fair share of highlights and lowlights, but a remarkable playoff run that led to the 13th league championship in the storied history of Great Falls professional baseball will not soon be forgotten.
Great Falls closed out the 2018 campaign with an overall record of 34-41 (seventh in the eight-team Pioneer League). The Voyagers qualified for the postseason by virtue of winning a first-half North Division crown to earn their third consecutive playoff berth and 11th in the last 12 seasons. They ended the first-half with a 22-16 (15-4 home) record before going 12-25 in the second-half. Great Falls went 22-15 at home and 12-26 on the road. The Voyagers were 18-29 against in-division foes. The topsy-turvy season concluded with a two-game championship series sweep of the Grand Junction Rockies, including a title-clinching 6-4 win at home on September 13th. The Voyagers swept Billings in the division series to advance to a second straight league championship series.
The Voyagers began the season with just three wins in their first nine games. But, a seven-game winning streak from June 25th to June 30th steered the ship in the right direction. The streak featured wins against all three division squads in Billings, Missoula, and Helena, and it started with a three-game road sweep of the Mustangs from June 25th to June 27th. A rain-filled first-half forced Great Falls to play four doubleheaders over the course of the first 15 days of the season. The Voyagers took over sole possession of first-place on July 10th with a series-opening 6-1 home win over Orem. That set a five-game winning streak in motion that pushed Great Falls to seven games over .500. A road win at Orem on July 18th lifted the Voyagers to a season-best eight games above .500. If not for 10 first-half losses by a single run, Great Falls might have reached record levels for wins in a half. Undoubtedly, the most spectacular game of the regular season occurred on July 13th at home against Orem. Great Falls trailed the Owlz 10-0 after two-and-a-half innings. The Voyagers clubbed five home runs on the night, including a career-high three big flies by Corey Zangari to help finish off the epic comeback. Great Falls clinched a playoff berth on the road at Grand Junction July 22nd, despite a 10-3 loss that night. A total of seven Voyagers from the first-half roster were eventually lost to call-ups to Kannapolis.
After dropping three of four to the Rockies to close out the first-half slate, Great Falls proceeded to start the second-half with just one win in its first 11 games. The Voyagers stabilized slightly with a 4-3 road trip through the South Division against Idaho Falls and Ogden August 17th through August 23rd. On August 21st at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Romy Gonzalez smashed two home runs with a grand slam and a career-high eight RBIs in a 14-5 victory. Gonzalez finished the season with a team-best 10 dingers. Great Falls prospects for a successful postseason appeared bleak, however, after losing six straight road games to close out the second-half, and four straight overall to eventual playoff opponent Billings. The Voyagers and Mustangs played three inconsequential games to finish the regular season at Dehler Park after Billings clinched the second-half division title. That allowed Great Falls to recalibrate its pitching staff heading into the Pioneer League playoffs.
Great Falls posted a 7-9 record in the regular-season series against Billings, including a 3-5 road mark. The Voyagers had less wins in the regular-season against the other two divisional opponents. The division series opened with a road game September 7th and the Voyagers gained early momentum with a 3-2 game one victory at Billings. A 9-2 home victory the next night propelled Great Falls into another championship series. Having tasted defeat in a maximum three-game set against Ogden for the league championship in 2017, the Voyagers came out swinging against Grand Junction in hopes of claiming another game one road success. In the series opener at Suplizio Field on September 11th, Great Falls plated five runs in each of the first two innings against the Rockies and held a 10-3 lead after one-and-a-half innings. The Voyagers bashed three home runs, including two from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 12-9 win. The championship-clinching victory came on Thursday, September 13th in front of the Voyagers home faithful at Centene Stadium. Great Falls jumped out to an early 5-0 cushion after three full innings. Grand Junction trimmed the lead to one with two in the fifth and two in the sixth before Great Falls posted a 6-4 win. The Rockies left the tying run on base to finish the game. The pitching staff, especially the Voyagers bullpen, was a key component in the championship run. Lane Ramsey earned two playoff wins in relief, while Nick Johnson picked up two playoff saves. Missoula native Codi Heuer earned the win against Grand Junction in game two and Devon Perez posted the save with seven strikeouts over three-and-a-third. The Voyagers undefeated four-game postseason stretch followed the four-game losing streak that finished the regular season.
Great Falls received several postseason accolades in 2018. Second-year skipper Tim Esmay was named Pioneer League Manager of the Year after guiding the Voyagers to a second consecutive playoff berth. Outfielder and former Indiana University standout Logan Sowers earned mid-season and end-of-season all-star status. And, infielder Amado Nunez brought home the league batting title with a .357 average. Nunez was the first batting champion in Great Falls since 1973 when Tony Cabrera accomplished the feat for the Great Falls Giants. The Voyagers pitching staff ranked among the best in the Pioneer League once again. The team ERA of 4.69 was third in the league. The staff walked a league-low 195 batters, 46 fewer walks than the next closest pitching staff in Billings. Offensively, Great Falls hit 75 home runs on the season. That ranked third in the league. The 75 home runs marked the most by a Voyagers team since their affiliation with the Chicago White Sox began back in 2003. The Great Falls Dodgers playoff teams of the late 1980's never hit that many homers in a short-season.
Great Falls begins defense of its latest Pioneer League championship in June 2019. To learn more about Voyagers ticketing and promotional information for the 2019 season at Centene Stadium, go online at www.gfvoyagers.com or phone 406.452.5311.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.