Great Falls, MT-Fueled by their 10th playoff appearance in the last 11 Pioneer League summers, the Voyagers 2017 season ended with a memorable league championship series appearance.
Great Falls closed out the 2017 campaign with an overall record of 34-42 (sixth in the eight-team Pioneer League). The Voyagers, however, finished the second half tied with Missoula for a share of the North Division title at 19-19 to earn their second consecutive playoff berth. They ended the first half tied for last place at 15-23. Great Falls went 20-18 at home and 14-24 on the road. The Voyagers were 23-25 against their North Division brethren. The worst-to-first season concluded with a 2-games-to-1 championship series loss to the Ogden Raptors, including an 8-3 defeat at Centene Stadium in the decisive game 3. It marked the first finals appearance for Great Falls since the franchise won it all in 2011. The Voyagers swept Missoula in the division series to advance.
The Voyagers played the most one-run and two-run games of any team in the league over the course of the season, with half the short-season schedule dotted by the thinnest of margins. Great Falls posted a 16-22 record in combined one-run and two-run contests. The first half slate saw the Voyagers reel off four straight wins before suffering their first defeat, a wild 19-16 loss at Missoula on June 23rd. Great Falls sustained two losing streaks of seven and eight games in the first half before steering the ship more steady with five victories in the final seven to end the half.
The second half began with a three-game losing streak in advance of a four-game winning streak. The Voyagers longest winning streak of the season produced five straight from August 16th through the 20th. That stretch included a 19-2 victory at Ogden on August 17th to split a four-game set with the eventual league champion. Great Falls improved to 16-12 in the second half after an August 30th win at home over division-rival Helena. The Voyagers spent 17 days in first place outright between August 17th and September 2nd. A five-game slide from August 31st to September 4th pulled them back into a first-place tie. In fact, Great Falls sat one game back following a September 6th road loss at Missoula. The Voyagers managed to take two of their final three to end the season, including a playoff-clinching 10-8 home win September 8th over the Osprey on the second-to-last day of the regular season. The postseason run was highlighted by catcher Nate Nolan's performance at the plate. The second-year professional amassed a .500 batting average in five games with five home runs and 13 RBIs.
The Voyagers regular season featured a handful of award-winning contributions at the plate. Most notably, IF Anthony Villa took home some hardware as the Pioneer League MVP. Villa became the first Great Falls player to win the Ralph Nelles league MVP award since the honor's inception back in 1999. The 23-year-old Danville, CA native clubbed 16 home runs and drove in 57 to lead the team in both categories. He led the league in walks with 52, and finished with a .314 average in a team-high 63 games. Villa racked up 25 multi-hit games and posted three two-homer games during the season with all of them coming at home. The former St. Mary's College (CA) standout was named the league player of the week once. In addition, Villa was a named a midseason and postseason all-star. Great Falls OF Craig Dedelow joined Villa on the all-star teams. Dedelow was a first-year player drafted by the White Sox in the 9th round out of Indiana University. Dedelow hit .321, 10th best in the league. He smashed 12 home runs and produced 54 RBIs. Dedelow had 21 doubles for 2nd in the league. Great Falls IF Justin Yurchak finished 6th in the league in batting at .345. Yurchak hit eight dingers and drove in 27. The first-year player and 12th round draft pick out of Binghamton was 4th in the league in on-base percentage at .448. The 20-year-old Yurchak was named the Pioneer League Player of the Month for August after batting .449 in 22 games.
For a second consecutive season, the Great Falls pitching staff led the league in earned run average. The Voyagers posted a 4.73 ERA. Among the starters, Kyle Von Ruden was named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Week once in late August. Von Ruden led the league in ERA at 4.27, and finished 4-4 with 63 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 15 starts. He ranked 1st in the league in innings pitched (86.1) and 1st in WHIP (1.30). The 23-year-old from Sacramento, CA appeared in his first affiliated season after he signed with the White Sox out of the independent Frontier League. Von Ruden pitched his final two years collegiately at the University of Hawaii, and began his pro career in 2016 with the Windy City Thunderbolts.
To learn more about Great Falls Voyagers ticketing and promotional information for the 2018 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.