VISALIA, CA - With the score tied at four heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, the Rawhide were facing two conclusions: win the first walk-off win of the season or face extra innings for the first time since April 15. With Parker Curry on to pitch for the Quakes, Grant Heyman took the first pitch he saw and blasted a line drive into the gap in right-center field that Yusniel Diaz kicked towards the wall. Heyman was motoring towards second anyway, and scooted into scoring position with a double.
Daniel Lockhart was tabbed as a pinch runner and quickly moved to third on a groundout by Marty Herum. With the winning run 90 feet away, Francis Christy struck out to bring up Henry Castillo, who already had two hits on the night, with two outs. Castillo quickly fell behind in the count by swinging early on a curveball, but on the second pitch of the at bat, Curry ran a fastball too far inside and plunked Castillo on the hip, sending Austin Byler to the plate.
Byler was hitless on the night, and had put up just six hits in his last 35 at bats. But he laced Curry's (L, 1-3) next pitch deep into right field. Ariel Sandoval raced back and reached up with the glove, but Byler's drive sailed over Sandoval's head to bring home Lockhart and secure the win for the Rawhide.
Visalia (25-28) walked off for the first time this season thanks in large part to the back end of the bullpen. Austin Mason entered in the seventh inning and pitched two scoreless frames, striking out four, and allowing only one hit. Bud Jeter (W, 1-3) pitched a perfect ninth with a pair of strikeouts to set up the win in the bottom of the ninth. Rawhide pitchers struck out 14 Rancho Cucamonga (27-26) hitters on the night, two shy of the club's season high.
Ryan Atkinson delivered five strong innings in his sixth start of the year for Visalia. He allowed only one run on three hits and struck out seven hitters with three walks. He was on pace for the win after the Rawhide scored three in the fifth inning on a RBI double by Herum, a RBI single by Castillo, and a run-scoring groundout by Christy to take a 4-1 lead.
However, Keegan Long suffered the worst inning of his career, giving up three runs on three hits in the sixth, including a two-run homer to the league's home run leader, Ibandel Isabel. DJ Peters also homered against Atkinson in the second inning to complete the scoring for the Quakes.
Rancho Cucamonga has now lost four consecutive games and eight of their last nine contests dating back to their previous series with Visalia. The loss also sent the Quakes to their fifth walk-off loss of the year. They have not won a game in walk-off fashion yet. The Rawhide have put together two wins in a row and will look to staff ace, RHP Justin Donatella, to help lead the club to three straight wins for the first time since May 3-5 against Stockton and Lancaster.
Modesto defeated Inland Empire tonight as well, which means that Visalia will keep pace with the Nuts at six games back with seventeen games remaining in the 2017 season's first half.
Tomorrow's game against Rancho Cucamonga will start at 7 PM and will feature Donatella for the Rawhide and LHP Caleb Ferguson for the Quakes. Tickets are still available on Rawhidebaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.