Willson Contreras stumbled before he succeeded on Saturday night, and it wasn't pretty.
A converted catcher five to six months in the making, Contreras picked up a bouncing ball on a would-be strikeout and, instead of throwing it to first base, heaved it into the home bullpen. The runner who took third base ended up scoring the only run over the first 6 1/2 innings.
"You know how the game works," said Boise's Mark Johnson, Contreras' manager. "Obviously, he was super-frustrated by that [error], but it came full circle and he won the game for us. It couldn't have been a more fitting ending or fitting person."
The Hawks came back from a pair of deficits before Contreras delivered a walk-off single in the ninth inning, ending a topsy-turvy and at times peculiar games and giving the Hawks a 3-2 win over visiting Vancouver.
Boise evened the best-of-3 Northwest League Finals at 1-1 and will seek its first title in eight years on Sunday afternoon. What's the mind-set of the club entering the finale?
"These guys are so young and emotional, they have a really short memory. And you need that in this game," Johnson said of his mostly teenage roster. "They're balls to the wall. They'd play a game right now if they could. I couldn't ask for a better mental state than that."
The Canadians appeared ready to close out a second straight championship with the second-inning run and five sterling frames from starter Roberto Osuna. The Blue Jays' No. 9 prospect struck out nine and gave up two hits, facing two over the minimum.
"He's a 17-year-old kid with 30-year-old presence out on the mound," Johnson said.
The Hawks had their own top-notch starter in Cubs' first-round pick Pierce Johnson. On a strict pitch count, he was charged with an unearned run on three hits while fanning six over three innings.
"He had a lively fastball and a big league breaking ball. He threw a great changeup, too," Johnson said. "You don't see guys with this kind of stuff that often at this level.
"It was a pitcher-dominated game. We couldn't score any runs early, but we scratched a few at the end, got lucky, got a few breaks."
One of those fortuitous situations came with two outs in the seventh. Contreras hit a two-out squibber that rolled foul until it came back fair, scoring the tying run.
Of course, Contreras' biggest moment arrived two innings later. He stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth and sent a pitch from Andrew Sikula (0-1) down the left-field line, scoring Jeimer Candelario.
Another Chicago first-rounder, center fielder Albert Almora, exited in the eighth while trying to track down a triple off the bat of Balbino Fuenmayor, who scored on Art Charles' double. It gave the Canadians a short-lived 2-1 advantage. Almora banged hard into the center-field fence but was feeling much better after the game. Johnson said the sixth overall Draft pick did not exude any symptoms of a concussion, may have bruised his ribs and will be re-evaluated Sunday morning.