STOCKTON, CA - Though Marcus Wilson's go-ahead, two-strike, two-out, three-run ninth-inning home run stole the spotlight, and rightfully so, the Rawhide pitching staff received strong performances throughout the night to lead Visalia to a 5-3 lead and a series-opening win in the North Division Championship Series.
Rawhide starter Riley Smith didn't factor into the decision, but made just one mistake over 5.2 solid innings. Smith surrendered a two-run go-ahead homer to Brett Siddall in the second, but after that settled down and danced in and out of trouble. He left a one-out double by Kevin Merrell on second base in the third and got double plays to escape jams in the fourth and fifth.
He struck out two hitters in the sixth before hitting his 100th pitch on the night, after which he was lifted in favor of Breckin Williams. Williams picked up right where Smith left off, striking out a pair over 1.1 no-hit innings of relief.
With the game tied at two, West Tunnell (W, 1-0). made his postseason debut and tossed a perfect eighth, whiffing a pair. With a 5-2 lead after Wilson's bomb in the ninth, Matt Brill was summoned for the save and struck out Luke Persico to start his night. Brill (SV, 1) gave up a solo homer to Viosergy Rosa but then struck out his final two hitters to secure his first career postseason save.
Visalia (1-0) held the Ports to a combined six hits. The Rawhide bullpen delivered 3.1 innings, allowing one run on one hit while striking out seven.
Offensively, the Rawhide made a theme out of taking advantage of Ports mistakes. Stockton starter Matt Milburn allowed a leadoff single to Camden Duzenack in the first and saw Duzenack pushed to third with Daulton Varsho singled with two outs.
With Wislon at the plate, a pitch clicked off the glove of Ports catcher Collin Theroux and trickled about 15 feet behind home plate. While Theroux took his time getting to the ball and Milburn remained near the mound, Duzenack broke for the plate.
Before Stockton knew what was happening, the opportunistic Duzenack dove home safely to put the Rawhide on the board, 1-0.
Milburn settled down after leaving the bases loaded in the second and, after he was given a 2-1 lead in the second, went on a streak of retiring ten straight Visalia hitters to reach the sixth. But with one out in the sixth Wilson singled up the middle to start a rally. Pavin Smith followed with a base hit and Milburn walked Ramon Hernandez on five pitches.
For the second time tonight, the Rawhide had the bases loaded and Ports Manager Rick Magnante wasn't leaving this jam to chance: he went to the bullpen for the wild right-hander Sam Sheehan.
Sheehan came on and walked Renae Martinez on four pitches to tie the game at six. He then got Anfernee Grier to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The Rawhide once again came up empty with runners in scoring position in the eighth, but Visalia offense was lit, once again, by Camden Duzenack in the ninth, who poked a leadoff single against Patt Krall. Jazz Chisholm followed with a bloop single of his own to move the go-ahead run to scoring position and chase Krall (L, 0-1) from the game.
Magnante next summoned closer Angel Duno who retired both Drew Ellis and Varsho to face Marcus Wilson. Down two strikes in the count, Wilson got a pitch to handle and blasted the go-ahead three-run homer to left center. Going back to the regular season, it is Wilson's third home run in his past five games.
Duzenack paced the Visalia offense with three hits and two runs scored. Wilson and Pavin Smith both added a pair of hits while Wilson put up three RBI.
The North Division Championship Series continues tomorrow night and will match up RHP Jeff Bain (4-2, 4.03) against Ports RHP Wyatt Marks (2-0, 3.58). First pitch is at 7:15 PM and the live radio broadcast will be available on rawhidebaseball.com.
The Visalia Rawhide are a professional baseball team in the Class A Advanced California League and are the only professional sports team in Tulare and Kings counties. The team has been an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2007 and is entering their 72nd year of play in 2018. The Rawhide renovated their home at Recreation Ballpark in 2009 and have since become the largest gathering of individuals in Tulare County, having set an attendance record for the seventh time in the past eight seasons in 2017. In 2018, the Rawhide look to continue their reputation for hosting competitive baseball while providing affordable family entertainment. To be a part of the 2018 Visalia Rawhide season, please contact the Visalia Rawhide Ticket Office at 559.732.4433, visit us online at rawhidebaseball.com, or follow us on Facebook (TheRawhide), Instagram (@VisaliaRawhide), and Twitter (@VisaliaRawhide).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.