Byler, bullpen lead Osprey to Pioneer title

Missoula beats Idaho Falls, wins second championship in four years

In the Pioneer League playoffs, the Osprey bested two second-half division champions. (Missoula Osprey)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | September 17, 2015 2:52 AM

For Missoula, there was one key to capturing the Pioneer League championship.

"Heart. That's it. These guys have so much heart," Osprey manager Joe Mather said. "They do not quit and they've believed in each other every step of the way. That's a cliched thing to say, but there's no way we win this without their desire."

Austin Byler went 3-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI on Wednesday as Missoula put away Idaho Falls, 8-1, in the decisive third game of the Championship Series. It's the club's fourth title and second in four years.

"Awesome," Mather said of the Byler, the D-backs' 11th-round pick in this year's Draft. "He's been a stud for us all year long. He was one of our best hitters. Jason Morozowski got hot, but Byler's done it all year long. He's an extremely tough out. He makes guys work hard, which makes the batters behind him better. He's done it all season long. Looking at it from a coach's or a manager's standpoint, it feels good to see it pay off for him in a big moment."

Morozowski, who hit for the cycle during the semifinals, contributed two hits and a run scored to finish the playoffs with a .480 average. Pioneer League MVP Isan Diaz delivered an RBI single. Like Byler, Morozowski and Diaz were with the Osprey during a 23-14 first half that secured the North Division title as well as the 19-19 second half. Missoula also went the distance with Billings to advance to the Finals.

"One guy after another has stepped up. Roles changed, lineups changed, but nobody took it in a selfish way," Mather said. "Everybody wanted to do whatever it took to win. In pro baseball, especially at these levels, that's a feat. It's a feat to find a group of young men that amazing and it's a feat for these men to be those players."

Missoula starter Bo Takahashi allowed a run on four hits and three walks while striking out four. He exited with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, but Scott Schultz got Royals sixth-rounder Cody Jones to ground out to end the inning. After D.J. Burt doubled and Brandon Dulin was hit by a pitch in the fifth, Austin Mason fanned two over 1 1/3 hitless frames.

"Scott Schultz and Austin Mason -- just guts. It's unbelievable what they did," Mather said. "If you look at how the game played out, they came in and got humongous outs. Schultz came in with two outs and the bases loaded; that's not an easy position to be in. Mason has gone over an inning for two nights in a row. These guys wanted it. You could see it when they got the outs -- they wanted it."

Cody Clark and Gabriel Moya each turned in a scoreless inning to get Missoula within three outs of the title. But before the ninth inning started, power went out at Ogren Park Allegiance Field, causing an 18-minute delay.

"Holy cow. It was terrible, to be honest with you," Mather said. "We had our closer [Keegan Long] coming out and nobody wanted to win without getting that last out. Guys were walking up and down the dugout, saying, 'They're not calling this game. We're finishing it.' We wanted to celebrate on the field. I couldn't believe it."

When play resumed, Long worked around Jose Martinez's leadoff single in an otherwise uneventful ninth.

Mather, who played 14 years in the Minors and Majors, was thrilled to see his players win a championship so early in their careers. 

"It's huge," he said. "I truly believe it's big to learn how to win, to know how to overcome adversity and win. Going through, I played in a Cardinals system that preached winning, and I think a big part of why the Cardinals are so successful in the big leagues is they know how to win at the early ages. It's [about] nothing but winning when you get to the big leagues, and it's huge for the development of these guys that they've done it here."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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