Thanks to rain in Great Falls Friday and Saturday, the Pioneer League Championship Series Game Two scheduled for Saturday night was unable to be played, forcing a potential doubleheader to decide the crown Sunday.
It took longer than expected, but the Ogden Raptors bounced back from a blowout loss in the opener to take the nightcap and championship with an 8-3 victory. It was the first Pioneer League title in Ogden Raptors history, dating back to the franchise's inception in 1994. Ogden's previous PBL incarnation, the Ogden Dodgers, had won four consecutive crowns from 1966-1969 for the city's most recent baseball championships.
The game was tight all the way through, with the host Great Falls Voyagers answering almost every run Ogden scored, until the Raptors broke out for three runs in the sixth in what had been a two-run game. Donovan Casey worked the count full to start the frame before lining to the right-center field gap for a double. He was balked to third before Luis Paz's line drive whistled over the head of Voyagers right fielder Nolan Brown. Romer Cuadrado followed with a high drive down the right field line for Ogden's third-straight two-bagger, and two outs later Cuadrado scored on a Brayan Morales bloop to right.
Ogden went on the board in the first inning for the fifth-straight playoff game, as Casey lined a single, Cuadrado walked and Mitchell Hansen lined into right field for a double to bring both across.
In the top of the fourth, Kevin Lachance singled, advanced on a Ramon Rodriguez base knock and Casey fielder's choice, then scored on a wild pitch for the Raptors' third run.
Great Falls answered in the home half, using a two-out walk, balk and single to scratch their first run off Edwin Uceta, who allowed just the one run on three hits in four innings.
Ogden plated two in the fifth after having two down and the bases empty. Hansen drew a full-count walk and Morales hit a booming triple to left-center at cavernous Centene Stadium, then Connor Heady sat on a breaking ball and laced it into the left field corner for extra bases.
The Voyagers again answered with two in the bottom of the fifth to pull within 5-3, but with two down Paz made one of the Raptors' plays of the season to keep his team in the lead. With runners on second and third, Zach Hartman induced a broken bat bouncing ball off the line at first. Paz rushed over to field the ball and dodged the barrel of the broken bat before flipping the ball with his glove toward first. Hartman, covering the bag, used every inch of his frame to stretch for the toss and keep his foot on the bag. Had the Raptors not recorded the out, Great Falls likely would have tied the game - they were sending the runner from second base around third after the lead runner.
After the three-run sixth made it 8-3, Conor Costello and Justin Hoyt finished the job on the mound in the seven-inning contest (as dictated by the doubleheader situation). Costello issued only a two-out walk in his scoreless frame, and Hoyt set down the top of the order 1-2-3, including a can of corn to center field from league MVP Anthony Villa for the final out as the Raptors rushed the field.
The Game Three win was especially surprising, after Ogden suffered a 15-3 loss in Game Two earlier Sunday. The Raptors, needing just one win for the title after a Game One victory Thursday night in Ogden, got a first-inning home run from Rylan Bannon but gave up eight in the bottom of the first, including a grand slam, and five in the fourth. The team regrouped between games, however, and came out fired up for the clincher.
The championship caps off the best season in Ogden Raptors history. Including playoffs, the team won 51 games against only 30 losses. The Raptors set team regular-season marks with 47 wins, a .319 batting average (one point behind the league record of .320 set by the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers), 587 runs and 104 home runs. Their 1,409 total bases are a new Pioneer League record.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.