Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
July 25, 2015, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria HarbourCats inched two important steps closer to a possible West Coast League playoff berth by sweeping a pair of games from the Walla Walla Sweets on Saturday, winning by scores of 7-6 and 3-2 in an exciting afternoon and evening of baseball at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.
Victoria’s Austin Guibor (10) is congratulated by (L to R) Alex DeGoti, Kevin Collard and Griffin Andreychuk after hitting a fifth-inning grand slam to propel the HarbourCats into a 4-3 Game 1 lead at the time (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The seven-inning, double-header wins, necessitated due to the first ever rain out in HarbourCats history on Friday night, improve the HarbourCats record to 20-21 and move them to within six games of Bellingham – who lost 19-11 to Medford – for the West Division lead, but more importantly to within two games of the Corvallis Knights for the Wild Card playoff berth.
Also of importance was that, unlike their last five losses to the Bellingham Bells, where the HarbourCats found ways to lose close ball games, they found ways to win against the Sweets on Saturday.
Victoria reliever Tei Vanderford had a strong outing in long relief in Game 1 to keep his team close, giving up one run on three hits, while striking out six in four innings of work (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
It did not look good for the HarbourCats early in Game 1, as the Sweets jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on HarbourCats starter Jonathan Buckley, who was making his first start since July 13th. Buckley lasted just one inning and gave way to reliever Tei Vanderford in the second inning, who was greeted by the Sweets third run on a sacrifice fly from David Geary.
Vanderford would then slow the Sweets attack with three scoreless innings, allowing the HarbourCats offence to finally come alive on Walla Walla starter Micah Gorman, who in the bottom of the fifth, would give up a walk to Scott Jarvis, a single to Alex DeGoti and a single to Griffin Andreychuk, before then giving up a grand slam home run to Austin Guibor that put the ‘Cats up 4-3.
Although it looks like he did it with his eyes closed, Walla Walla’s Clayton Ayres saw everything on this swing as he knocked a Shawn Kennedy fastball off the top of the scoreboard for a two-run home run in the sixth inning that put Walla Walla back in front 5-4 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
That lead was short-lived however as Victoria reliever Shawn Kennedy came in to start the sixth and promptly gave up singles to Juan Gamez and a fielders choice to Dylan Wilbert and then watched as Clayten Ayers took a high fastball over the fence in left and off the top corner of the scoreboard for a two-run shot that restored the Sweets lead to 5-4.
PJ Floyd had a pair of hits in Game 1 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
A solo homerun by Connor Kopach off Kennedy in the top of the seventh extended that lead to 6-4 and things were looking dire for the HarbourCats heading to the bottom of the final inning.
But these are these never-say-die, Cardiac ‘Cats and in the bottom of the seventh, Kevin Collard got the ball rolling with a double, his second hit of the game, off Sweets reliever Cam Richman. AJ Alcantara would then pinch hit for Andreychuk and take one off the hand to put runners at first and second.
Victoria baserunner Austin Guibor has to deal with Walla Walla pitcher Juan Gamez on his back after scoring the winning run in Game 1 on a wild pitch. Gamez was covering home on the play (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
After a walk to Guibor, Juan Gamez would take the hill for the Sweets and promptly hit Ben Polshuk, bringing in Collard to make it 6-5. A sacrifice fly by Jackson Thoreson would score Reno Rankin – who pinch ran for Alcantara – and move up Guibor and Polshuk.
Then in the strangest moment of the game, in an attempt to intentionally walk PJ Floyd to load the bases, Gamez sailed his second pitch way over the catchers head to the backstop, allowing Guibor to score and give the ‘Cats the 7-6 walk off victory.
Guibor’s big blast was the offensive highlight of the game and was supplemented by a pair of hits each from Collard and Floyd and singles from Alex DeGoti and Andreychuk.
Despite his less than stellar performance, Shawn Kennedy gets credit for the win, while Walla Walla’s Gamez gets the loss.
In Game 2, Victoria starting pitcher Henry Omana would be the early story as he had an excellent start, holding the Sweets to just a single hit and single run (unearned) through four plus innings of work, walking two and striking out six in the process.
Game 2 starter Henry Omana had a solid outing for the HarbourCats Saturday, holding the Sweets to just a single hit and single run (unearned) through four plus innings of work, walking two and striking out six in the process (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN).
Meanwhile, the HarbourCats had built a 2-0 lead off Sweets starter Cooper Powell thanks to a second inning sacrifice fly from Michael Gretler that scored Polshuk, who led off with a triple, and a fourth inning RBI single from Gretler that, once again, scored Polshuk who had reached earlier on a single.
After the Sweets scored their first run in the fifth, the HarbourCats responded with one of their own in the bottom of the inning on a RBI ground out from AJ Alcantara that scored Chase Lambert who led off with a single.
Ben Polshuk round second on his way to a second inning triple in Game 2. Polshuk would also single and score two of the HarbourCats three runs (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Sweets would get one of those back in the top of the sixth off reliever Josh Walker, but Walker and then Austin Dondanville, aided by an impressive 1-6-3 double play in the seventh, would shut things down to close out the 3-2 win.
Polshuk with his triple and single and two runs scored led the offence with Gretler contributing a hit, a team leading 20th walk and a pair of RBIs. Jake Pries with a double and singles from Andreychuk and Lambert rounded out the ‘Cats six hits.
Victoria’s Ben Polshuk slides into second safely, ahead of the throw to Walla Walla shortstop Connor Kopach (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Omana gets the win for Victoria, with Dondanville the save. Joe DeMers take the loss in relief for the Sweets.
These two teams will have a short turn-around time as they are right back at it at 1:00 pm Sunday for the finale of the three-game set. Matt Blais will get the start for Victoria, while the Sweets will send Travis Ulvestad to the mound.
Sunday is a HUGE (as in BIG) promotional day for the HarbourCats at Sports Traders Diamond at RAP.
Michael Gretler watches as his fourth inning RBI single leaves the infield. Gretler would have a pair of RBIs in Game 2 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
It’s Cadet Appreciation Day with nine busloads of cadets coming to the park on usedvictoria.com Paint the Park Purple Day. And for those who follow reality TV, it’s a Big Brother Canada reunion with Naeha and Sindy-with-an-S meeting up with former castmate Graig Merritt, the head coach of the HarbourCats, and helping throw out the first pitch.
Game Notes: Friday was the first rain-out in HarbourCats history, making today’s double-header the first ever in HarbourCats history. In another first, after perhaps a small mis-judgement of Mother Nature on Friday, the HarbourCats ground crew rolled the infield tarp over the field after the games Saturday as a precaution against any overnight rain, making it the first time the tarp has been used on the field in the team’s history.