STOCKTON, Calif. - The Stockton Ports survived a roller coaster of a game on Thursday night at Banner Island Ballpark to pull even with the Visalia Rawhide in the best-of-five North Division Championship Series. Stockton nearly saw a four-run lead in the ninth inning fall by the wayside, but the Boys of Banner Island hung on for a thrilling 8-7 win in a game that took nearly four hours as the series shifts to Visalia for a pivotal third game tied at a game apiece.
Stockton's offense got off and running in the top of the first inning as Kevin Merrell singled to open the frame and scored on an ensuing double by Chase Calabuig as the Ports took a 1-0 lead. Calabuig scored two batters later on an RBI single by Viosergy Rosa to make it a 2-0 ballgame.
The Ports widened their lead in the third. With two on and one out, Edwin Diaz tripled off the right-center field fence to stretch the Stockton lead to 5-0. The first five runs were allowed by Rawhide starter Jeff Bain (0-1), who suffered the loss after going three innings and allowing nine hits while striking out four.
Port starter Wyatt Marks kept the Rawhide out of the run column over the first three innings, but in the fourth was tagged for a two-run homer off the bat of Marcus Wilson that cut the Stockton lead to 5-2. The Ports got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning when Calabuig led off with his first career home run to welcome Rawhide reliever Cole Bartlett into the game. It was the only run allowed by Bartlett in three innings worked in what was his California League debut.
Marks pitched into the fifth inning and gave up a walk and a single to open the frame, at which point he was lifted for Andrew Tomasovich. Tomasovich hit Camden Duzenack and then walked Jazz Chisholm with the bases loaded to bring in a run. After the walk, Tomasovich induced back-to-back pop-flies to the infield and was then lifted for Jake Bray (1-0). Bray issued a bases-loaded walk to Wilson, but then got Pavin Smith to foul out to end the inning.
Marks would not factor into the decision as he went four-plus innings and allowed four runs on five hits while striking out three. Tomasovich did not allow a run of his own in two-thirds of an inning of work. Bray would go on to be named the winning pitcher after working 1 1/3 scoreless innings while walking two and striking out two.
Will Gilbert came on to pitch the seventh for the Ports and worked around a single and a walk, getting Daulton Varsho to hit into an inning-ending double-play. Gilbert returned for the eighth and would allow two singles and be lifted with two on and two out for Trey Cochran-Gill. Cochran-Gill would walk Anfernee Grier to load the bases but then get Duzenack to ground out to escape the jam.
The Ports widened their lead in the bottom of the eighth. Jake Winston retired Merrell to open the inning but then issued three straight walks to load the bases. Carlos Bustamante was then summoned from the Visalia bullpen and gave up a two-run single to left to Brett Siddall that stretched the Ports lead to 8-4. The runs were both charged to Winston who worked a third of an inning.
Cochran-Gill remained in the game to pitch the ninth inning and gave up a leadoff walk to Chisholm followed by a single to Drew Ellis. At that point, Angel Duno was summoned from the bullpen and, after getting Varsho to fly out, walked Wilson and then gave up a two-run single to Pavin Smith that cut the Ports lead to 8-6. Ramon Hernandez followed with an RBI single to right to score Wilson and make it an 8-7 game. Duno was then pulled for Sam Sheehan (SV, 1). With runners at first and second and facing Renae Martinez, Sheehan gave up a single to left. Smith was sent around third to try and score the tying run and was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Luke Persico to preserve Stockton's one-run lead. With runners at the corners and two outs, Sheehan got Grier to ground out to third to end the ballgame and notch the save.
With the series tied 1-1, the series shifts to Recreation Ballpark in Visalia for the next two contests beginning on Friday night. Kyle Friedrichs (2-2, 3.27 ERA) makes the start for Stockton, opposed by Rawhide right-hander Connor Grey (10-9, 4.54 ERA). First pitch is set for 7 p.m. PDT.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.