The Orem Owlz didn't face Dan Hudson during the regular season. They probably could have used the practice.
The 21-year-old right-hander matched a career high with 12 strikeouts over six innings Saturday night as the Great Falls Voyagers held off the Owlz, 8-5, in the decisive third game of the Pioneer League Championship Series to capture their first title since 2002.
"It was definitely a team effort to get this far," Hudson said. "I put it in my mind that if we were going to get into the playoffs, we were going to need a strong pitching performance. It was unbelievable."
The Voyagers, who squandered a pair of leads in Friday night's 4-3, 13-inning loss in Orem, came out swinging in Game 3. After Hudson struck out a pair in the opening frame, Great Falls put up six runs in the second.
"We learned a lot in that loss last night," Great Falls manager Chris Cron said. "I told the guys how proud I was of their effort. You can't simulate that type of game. That's what you draw upon in this game. But they believed in themselves and it really showed tonight."
Zach Larson started the outburst with a two-run single and Lee Fischer, who committed a costly error in the 13th inning of Game 2, added a two-run double as the Voyagers staked Hudson to a big early cushion.
Orem pushed a run across in the bottom of the frame on Angel Castillo's RBI groundout before loading the bases with one out. But Hudson responded by fanning Darwin Perez and Ivan Contreras to start a string of nine consecutive outs recorded via strikeouts.
"We scored six runs and I kind of got my head out of it a little bit," Hudson admitted. "But I managed to bear down there in the second and really got it together in the third."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Virginia Beach native completed his performance with a 1-2-3 sixth, leaving the mound for good after allowing one run on four hits and two walks.
Drew O'Neill followed with a scoreless seventh but ran into serious trouble in the eighth. Luis Jimenez, who was ejected from Game 2 after a home plate collision with Great Falls catcher Mike Grace, sparked the Owlz's comeback bid with a leadoff single.
Donato Giovanatto reached on a throwing error by Fischer and Tyson Auer singled before O'Neill hit Castillo to force in a run on his final pitch of the night. Enrique Lechuga retired Jon Townsend on a run-scoring groundout and Beau Brooks lifted a sacrifice fly before Darwin Perez's RBI single shaved the deficit to 8-5.
Daniel Albritton came on and yielded a deep drive to center field off the bat of Michael Wing, but Jordan Cheatham made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in front of the wall to end the threat.
"Usually. the dagger is on offense when somebody gets a big hit or a home run," Cheatham said. "But I pretty much thought that was the dagger right there."
"It was one of the best catches I've ever seen in a clutch situation like that," Hudson added.
Albritton made sure there wasn't any suspense in the ninth. He struck out league MVP Roberto Lopez, got Jimenez on a liner to short and fanned Giovannato to record his first postseason save and set off a wild celebration by the visitors.
Hudson went 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 14 regular-season starts but clearly saved his best for last. The Old Dominion University product won his last four outings, including an 8-3 victory over Billings on Sunday in the opening-round clincher.
"It was up and down there for a little while, but I really made some good strides toward the end of the season," Hudson said. "I'm really pleased with my first season."
"He was our ace in the hole," Cron added. "We couldn't have asked for a better performance. He struck out 12 guys against the best team in the league."
Doug Thennis went 2-for-3 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs scored and Tyler Kuhn also collected a pair of hits and drove in a run for Great Falls, which avenged a two-game sweep at the hands of the Owlz in last year's Finals.
"We talked about the role reversal," Cron said. "Orem had the best team in the league and the best record. But we were there last year and they snuck up on us and beat us. This time, we came in and beat them. I'm glad that history repeated itself in that fashion."
Orem starter Jeff Boshers (1-1), who went unbeaten in his first 14 appearances as a professional, lasted 1 1/3 frames and surrendered a season-high six earned runs on seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
Auer went 2-for-4 with a run scored for the Owlz, who were denied their fourth championship in five years.