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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

June 10, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – A 2-out single by Nathan Lukes in the bottom of the 11th inning scored Kelly Norris-Jones from second base and gave the Victoria HarbourCats a thrilling 6-5 win over the Cowlitz Black Bears in the HarbourCats West Coast League home opener Tuesday evening at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.

Victoria’s bullpen catcher Alan Baldwin (right) was the first to greet Nathan Lukes (left) after his game winning hit in the 11th inning Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Norris-Jones, who led off the inning with a walk and was sacrificed to second on a bunt from Danny Collier, crossed the plate after Lukes opposite field fly ball just eluded the diving grasp of Cowlitz left fielder Brian Poupore. The winning hit set off a joyous celebration by the ‘Cats, as they chased Lukes down and mobbed him after the winning hit. It also erased the memories of two tough losses in Kelowna and sent what remained of the crowd of 3,038 home happy.

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Victoria’s Logan Lombana delivers the first pitch at the HarbourCats home opener on Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

For a while it appeared that lady luck was not going to be on the HarbourCats side once again, as the hard-hitting Bears had used a 10-hit attack to rough up starter Logan Lombana and reliever Carson Schneider for five runs and a 5-3 lead after 6.5 innings of play.

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Victoria’s Ted Boeke looked to have avoided the tag from Cowlitz catcher Nick Funyak in this attempted steal of home plate in the second inning Tuesday, however he was called out (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The ‘Cats actually opened the scoring in the bottom of the second on a bases-loaded walk to Collier that scored Cole Kreuter, but the Bears would jump ahead 2-1 in the top of the third thanks to a couple of walks and a HarbourCats error that led to one run and then a second that crossed the plate during a run-down between first and second that resulted in the final out of the inning.

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Cowlitz’s Ryan Aguilar lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the top of the third inning Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

After Cowlitz added another run in the top of the sixth, thanks to singles from Daniel Orr and Nick Funyak, the HarbourCats battled back to tie it 3-3 in the bottom of the inning after a Ted Boeke triple off the left-centre field fence scored Wyler Smith (who led off the inning with a single) and Hunter Mercado-Hood (walk).

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A young fan gets a helping hand from Harvey-the-HarbourCat during the base race Tuesday night (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In the top of the seventh, Schneider, who had come on in relief of Peabody to start the sixth, found himself in trouble after a one-out single to Austin Baker that was compounded by an error that allowed Baker to move to second. Chris Iriart then followed with a double to score Baker and then an RBI single from Orr scored Iriart and also spelled the end of the night for Schneider.

Enter Victoria opening night starter Tim Peabody who promptly gave up a triple to Poupore, but then got a strikeout to end the inning and keep the ‘Cats deficit to just two runs at 5-3.

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Victoria second baseman Cole Kreuter nearly went horizontal on this tough ground ball chance on Tuesday evening (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In the bottom of the inning, the HarbourCats, who to that point had only mustered five hits off Black Bears’ starter Trevor Lane and reliever Henry Omana, began the inning with back-to-back singles off Omana from Collier and Alex DeGoti. After an out, Wyler Smith also singled and Omana was lifted in favour of reliever Grant Gamble. That turned out to be a disastrous move for Cowlitz, as Gamble could not find the strike zone and walked the next two batters on eight straight pitches allowing Victoria to tie the game without putting another ball in play.

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Cowlitz baserunner Daniel Orr scores the Black Bears third run Tuesday, just eluding the tag of Victoria catcher Gunner Pollman (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Bears then went to Joe Reta on the mound and he did his job and then some, retiring the next two batters to get out of the inning and then setting the HarbourCats down in order in each of the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings, earning six strikeouts along the way.

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Victoria’s Wyler Smith steals his 6th base of the season, beating the throw to Cowlitz shortstop Kyle Hunt (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Not to be outdone, the HarbourCats Peabody also excelled in his relief role, scattering just three hits and striking out six to keep the game knotted into the eleventh. He was also helped out in the top of the eleventh by right fielder Lukes, who made a great diving catch of a sinking line drive off the bat of the Bear’s Ryan Aguilar.

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Victoria right fielder Nathan Lukes would make a fine sliding catch of a sinking line drive in the top of the 11th inning Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

That catch set the stage for Lukes to provide the game winning dramatics in the bottom of the eleventh and after Norris-Jones reached second and DeGoti grounded out, he wasted no time, launching the first pitch he saw from Reta down the left field line to score Norris-Jones. For Lukes, it was his second hit of the game and ninth already of the young season.

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Cowlitz baserunner Daniel Orr would be tagged out on this play by Victoria shortstop Alex DeGoti (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The win evens the HarbourCats early season record at 2-2 and pulls them into a tie with Cowlitz (also 2-2) for third in the West Division just 1.5 games back of Division leading Kitsap. Both teams will be right back at it on Wednesday night with the HarbourCats sending Andrew Nelson (University of Kentucky) to the hill. Game time is 7:11 pm at Royal Athletic Park.

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Cowlitz baserunner Seaver Whalen looks up in disbelief after he was called out trying to steal second late in the game Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

GAME NOTES: Peabody gets the win in relief while Reta gets tagged with the loss for Cowlitz. Wyler Smith added his sixth stolen base of the season. The thieving ‘Cats stole another three in total. Alex DeGoti and Logan Lombana both arrived in Victoria just a couple of hours prior to game time and were both in the starting line-up. Cowlitz’s Chris Iriart was ejected in the top of the ninth inning for arguing balls and strikes after striking out. 

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