Tim Esmay felt the sting of losing a decisive game in last year's Pioneer League Finals. Buoyed by a club that got hot at the perfect time, he didn't miss in his shot at redemption.
Rookie-level Great Falls jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and held on to defeat Grand Junction, 6-4, at Centene Stadium at Legion Park and complete a two-game sweep for the league championship.
The Voyagers finished the postseason with a perfect 4-0 record en route to their 13th championship and the first since 2011.
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Last year, Esmay's club dropped the winner-take-all third game of the Finals against Ogden.
"To come back and win it this year is awesome," the skipper said. "Especially with basically an entirely new group of players. I think there were only two guys left over from last year's squad, so to do it again with different faces is a credit to our players, our coaches and our organization."
One night after winning a slugfest in the best-of-3 opener, Great Falls scored in the first three innings to go up by five runs. Romy Gonzalez delivered an RBI single in the opening frame and Travis Moniot doubled home two more runs in the second. Lenyn Sosa increased the Voyagers' lead to 4-0 with an RBI groundout and Micah Coffey plated their fifth run with a single in the third.
White Sox No. 29 prospect Jonathan Stiever made the lead stand up with three scoreless innings. but the Rockies fought back like they did in Game 1. Hunter Stovall's RBI single and consecutive passed balls by catcher Gunnar Troutwine helped Grand Junction to cut into the lead in the fifth. A throwing error by Voyagers second baseman Amado Nunez -- his second miscue in as many innings -- allowed two more runs to score in the sixth, trimming the lead to 5-4.
But the Rockies got no closer.
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The championship marked the first of Esmay's professional career, which began with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in 2015 after a 16-year run with the University of Utah and Arizona State. He joined Triple-A Charlotte as an assistant coach in 2016 before taking the reins in Great Falls last season.
Esmay brought the Voyagers to the brink of a championship in 2017 and got off to a good start this year, winning the first-half division crown at 22-16. The club stumbled in the second half, posting a 12-25 record before righting itself in the playoffs.
"We enjoyed a strong start to the season, but as expected, there was a lot of [player] movement," Esmay explained. "We had several of our better hitters move up and the guys who took their spots really hadn't had many at-bats. It took them a little while to settle in, but when they did, it all seemed to click and we put it together towards the end. It's all about getting hot at the right time in the playoffs and that's what we did."
Gonzalez reached safely four times and finished 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. Sosa tripled and singled and Nunez plated an insurance run with an RBI base knock in the eighth.
Stiever allowed three hits and a walk with two strikeouts during the final start of his rookie campaign. Codi Heuer (1-0) was charged with four runs -- two earned -- in 2 2/3 innings but picked up the win. Devon Perez struck out seven while scattering three hits over 3 1/3 scoreless frames to seal the championship.
"It was a real back-and-forth affair," Esmay said. "[Grand Junction] is a very good team. There's a reason they were the second-half South Division champions. But tonight, we got on them early, and I thought all our guys pitched well. If we had made a few plays earlier in the game, it probably wouldn't have been as close as it was, but it turned out fine for us."
Rockies No. 26 prospect Daniel Montano, Niko Decolati and Stovall had two hits apiece for Grand Junction. Starter Trent Fennell (0-1) was tagged four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three in one inning.