YAKIMA, Wash.- Entering Tuesday’s series opening matchup against the Apple Sox, the Pippins had won 6-straight league series on the quest to earn a playoff spot.
In game 1 of the final home series of the year, head coach Kyle Krustangel stressed the playoff significance of every game against his former club, and every one of the last 6 games.
“Every game from here on out is must win,” said Krustangel. “If we keep doing our job, with some of the other matchups around the league, I think we’ll like were we end up at the end of the season.”
The Pippins played like their backs were against the wall in a dramatic, 4 and a half hour, 12-inning contest against Wenatchee.
The Apple Sox, also in a tight playoff race in the North Division, started the scoring early with a leadoff triple from West Coast League MVP candidate Joichiro Oyama.
Wenatchee followed with an RBI hit and ground out and for the 3rd time in the last 4 Pippins games, Yakima Valley would start from behind.
The bottom of the first would see the Pippins answer by loading the bases with nobody out, but a Shayne Simpson RBI was the only run to crossand the 2nd inning started 2-1.
A quiet 2nd inning set up the Pippins to tie it in the 3rd, when back-to-back 2-out doubles and another Shayne Simpson RBI returned things to level.
Wenatchee punched back the next frame with a 4-spot, once again putting the Pippins behind the 8-ball.
Again the squad showed no quit, retaliating with 3 in the bottom of the 5th inning courtesy of 3 walks, a Spencer Shipman double, and a Jake Borst RBI single.
The top of the 6th started with a 6-5 Apple Sox lead, and they would extend it on another 2-out RBI hit for Grant Sherrod to make it 7-5.
Matters would only get worse when 4-straight hits in the 7th scored 3 more and Wenatchee took a 5-run, 10-5 advantage to the 7th-inning stretch.
Trailing by 5 and down to the final 9-outs, the Pippins put together a rally.
The first 6 batters of the frame reached and RBI hits from Jaxon Sorenson and Luke Rohleder highlighted a 4-run inning which cut the lead to 10-9.
Spencer Shipman tossed a 1-2-3 8th inning and the Pippins had the chance to tie it, but Oyama came up huge defensively by throwing out the tying run at the plate in the bottom half.
Having lost momentum and heading into the final frame the Pippins needed another spark.
A one-out error allowed an important insurance run to reach, but a huge 4-6-3 double play ended the top of the 9th.
Trailing by 1 and 3-outs away from a crushing defeat, a 1-out walk put the fastest player on the Pippins on-base in Luke Rohleder.
He picked up a massive steal to move himself into scoring position as the tying run. It was the 5th steal of the game for Rohleder who now leads the team with 20 stolen bags on the year.
A groundout moved him to 3rd and it was up to Jaxon Sorenson with the Pippins down to their last out.
After a long at-bat which saw 3 foul balls and a 2-2 count, Sorenson hit a slow roller to one of the best defensive shortstops in the league in DJ Massey.
The 6’4″ lefty burned down the line and legged out an infield single by less than a step to tie the game at 10.
The 9th inning concluded and the Pippins would play in their 2nd extra-inning matchup this season.
Defensive shined again for the Pippins as they had all game.
Connor Coballes made one of the best plays of the year in the 3rd, Luke Rohleder had an acrobatic diving catch in the 4th, a double-play ended the top of the 9th, and this time it was new Pippin Kyle Williamson to make a big play.
The right fielder perfectly read a scorching line drive off the bat and made the catch on the run. He then fired to second to double off the go-ahead run and end the top of the 10th.
Neither side found any success in the 11th and on short rest, Tyler Frieders pitched in the 12th.
A pair of walks and a single loaded the bases for Wenatchee with 1-out, and Frieders worked behind in the count 3-1 with nowhere to put the 3-hole hitter Grant Sherrod.
He battled back and on the 8th pitch of the at-bat, struck out the first baseman on a high fastball, and left the bases loaded and the game tied when a flyout ended the top of the 12th.
Jaxon Sorenson led off the bottom of the 12th with an 11 pitch walk. With the winning run aboard, Shayne Simpson fouled back two bunt attempts, but managed to get one down on a full count to advance the runner.
In the DH spot, the 3rd change was made, this time bringing Gabe Villaflor to the plate as the pinch-hitter.
The University of Portland catcher was a recent addition to the Pippins squad, replacing Josh Davis who returned home last week.
He shot an 0-1 pitch up the middle and Oyama saw it skip off of his glove on a diving effort.
The deflection allowed Sorenson to round third and head home, and the big first baseman dove home head-first to beat the tag and win the biggest game of the year.
“It was awesome, seeing everyone pitch in together, we were never out of it,” said the hero Gabe Villaflor. “It’s a real blessing to be on a summer-ball team and I love the guys on the team.”
With the big win and a Bend loss, the Pippins are 1 game out of a playoff spot if Corvallis wins the 2nd half. If the Knights lose some of their next 5 remaining games, the Pippins are 2.5 games out of the second half division lead.
Yakima Valley has the chance to move into a postseason spot and clinch their 7th straight WCL series victory in game 2 on Wednesday at 6:35.
Broadcast starts at 6:20 at youtube.com/c/pippinsbaseball.