Pippins Fall Short in WCL Championship Final
Franchise's first trip to the WCL Finals ends with loss in game three
A historic 2021 season for the Yakima Valley Pippins came to an end Friday as they fell short in game three of the West Coast League Championship Series against the Corvallis Knights.
After dealing the Pippins a 2-1 loss in game two to force a decisive game three, the Knights exploded for a 13-2 win in the finale to capture their eighth league title, and fifth consecutive dating back to 2016 (the WCL did not hold a season in 2020).
Seth Kuykendall started on the mound for the Pippins and received some tough luck. After retiring the first two Knights in the bottom of the first inning, Nick Vogt singled to continue the inning. Kiko Romero hit a shallow line drive to right field that would have dropped in for a single, but Austin Plante went diving for the ball and missed and the ball rolled to the wall. Vogt scored from first, but Romero was thrown out trying to turn it into an inside-the-park home run when Taylor Holder relayed the ball home through Connor Coballes.
Kuykendall allowed a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with two outs in the second inning before Travis Bazzana singled home a pair of runs, leaving runners on the corners. Bazzana stole second base, and scored on a tough play in the infield. Briley Knight hit a slow roller to shortstop Coballes, whose throw pulled Willie Lajoie off the bag. The runner from third scored on the initial play, and Bazzana scored as Lajoie was distracted by the play at first.
The Pippins argued that Lajoie’s foot stayed on the bag when he made the catch, but the ruling was upheld.
Vogt followed with an RBI triple, and the Knights were out to a 6-0 lead.
The Pippins were finally able to score against Corvallis starter Ethan Ross in the third inning. Spencer Marenco walked to start the inning, moved to second base on a passed ball and scored on a pair of groundouts to cut the lead to 6-1.
Owen Wild came on in relief in the third inning and struck out six Knights over three scoreless innings while the Pippins offense remained unable to generate offense against Ross.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Wild was ahead of Tanner Smith 0-2 when he got Smith to swing at a breaking ball that got past Sam Olsson. Smith took off for first base, but Olsson collected the ball and threw to first base to retire him.
However, the home plate umpire had not ruled on the swing, and when asked to check with the first base umpire, it was ruled that Smith did not go around. Pippins Head Coach Kyle Krustangel, who had been battling the first base umpire throughout the game on calls, went out to argue and was ejected from the game.
Wild wound up striking out Smith and, after allowing a single to Kyler Stancato, finished the scoreless inning with a third strikeout.
Wild came back out for the sixth inning and allowed a pair of one-out singles to Riley Way and Bazzana. Briley Knight hit a grounder up the middle that Coballes flipped to second base for the second out of the inning, leaving runners on the corners.
Wild then worked Vogt into a 2-2 count, but Vogt was also saved by a check swing that appeared to go around that the umpires ruled he held back on. He followed that call with a two-run double, and Romero singled him home to give the Knights a 9-1 lead.
The Pippins turned to Case Matter with a runner on and two outs, and he induced a flyout by Smith to end the inning.
In the seventh inning, the Knights turned to Drew Dowd, who struck out two and allowed one hit in a scoreless inning. Matter returned for the bottom of the seventh and also struck out two in a perfect inning.
Right-hander Grant Taylor pitched the eighth inning for the Knights, striking out a pair in a 1-2-3 inning to hold the lead.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Pippins handed the ball to Kirby Robertson. Robertson walked the first two batters of the inning before Knight drove them in with a double. After getting pinch-hitter Ethan Loveless to fly out for the first out, Romero launched a two-run home run to left field to give the Knights a 13-1 lead.
Peysen Sweeney was then asked to end the inning, and he got the final two outs with a strikeout and lineout.
The Pippins got some offense going against new Corvallis pitcher Colton Meyer in the ninth inning – Blake Dickman singled to start the inning and scored on a double by Alex Shanks – but the lead proved insurmountable, and the Pippins fell 13-2.
After winning the franchise’s first WCL Championship Series game at home Tuesday, the Pippins were unable to overcome the Knights in two chances in Corvallis, bringing their season to an anti-climactic end.
With the Pippins coaching staff and a number of players returning for the 2022 season, the team stands poised to repeat its historic success next summer. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for announcements about next summer’s roster.
By Chris Rosato Jr.
August 21, 2021