Pippins Take Historic 2021 Run All the Way to Game Three in WCL Finals

In a season of firsts for the Yakima Valley Pippins, the team grinded out a season in which they won their division in both halves of the regular season, as well as the West Coast League North Divisional Series.

They came one win away from securing the franchise’s first league title.

It was a long season, so let’s look back at how the summer unfolded as West Coast League baseball returned to The Orchard for the first time since 2019.

A Historic First Half

The Pippins had a dominant start to their season, winning eight out of their first 10 West Coast League games. That included defeating the four-time defending champion Corvallis Knights on opening day on June 4, 10-1, and splitting the next two games to win the series. 

The Pippins then traveled to Bellingham, dropping game one before winning the next two games to kick off a franchise-record 12-game win streak.

The Pippins returned home June 11-13 to host the Ridgefield Raptors, walking things off in a 12-inning thriller on a base hit by Taylor Holder that scored Noah Williamson in the series opener. Williamson had also hit two triples in that game, becoming the first Pippins player to accomplish the feat.

Wanting to avoid another drawn-out win, the Pippins exploded for 17 runs to take down the Raptors in the middle game. The weather was not very cooperative in the finale, forcing a rain delay, but the Pippins outlasted the Raptors for an 8-4 win and their first sweep of the season.

Williamson was named the West Coast League’s Player of the Week, having raised his batting average to .400 with an 11-for-26 week. 

The team then took a six-game break from WCL play to welcome in the NW Star Nighthawks for two games, Redmond Dudes on June 17 and the CCL’s Showcase Team June 19-21.

The Pippins won all six games handily, scoring 10 or more runs in four out of the six games. That included a 22-3 win over the CCL Showcase Team on June 20.

The Pippins returned to WCL play with another series against the Raptors, this time in Ridgefield June 22-24. After a 10-1 Pippins victory in the opener, the Raptors pounced early in the next two games to win the series.

The Pippins returned home to host the Walla Walla Sweets June 25-27. In the opener, Kirby Robertson turned in a great start and gave way to the bullpen in the eighth inning with a 7-3 lead, but they coughed up the lead and the Sweets took game one.

The Sweets scored another four runs in the final two innings of game two, but the Pippins held on for a 9-5 victory to even the series. The rubber match wound up taking 16 innings to decide, with Michael Carpentier Jr. erasing a two-run Sweets lead in the 15th inning with a two-run bomb to right field, and tying the game again with an RBI single in the 16th inning. Sweets reliever Nick Irwin was called for a balk with runners on the corners to bring in the winning run and give the Pippins the series.

Chaz Myers was named the WCL Player of the Week for the week of June 21-27 after posting an 11-for-21 week at the plate. He also hit three doubles in the finale against Walla Walla, tying the Pippins franchise record.

The Port Angeles Lefties came to town June 29-July 1, taking advantage of four errors in the first inning to get out to a lead they would not return. The Pippins played a cleaner game defensively in game two, but still fell 6-3 as the Lefties won the series.

Facing their first sweep of the season, Chase Graves’ two-run home run gave the Pippins a 4-2 lead in the finale. The Lefties would bring themselves to within one run, but could not close the gap.

The team then departed on a six-game road trip to finish out their first half, sitting on top of the North Division with a three-game lead.

Their first stop was in Bend July 2-4, but the Elks greeted them with a 12-3 defeat in the series opener. The Pippins scored two runs in the first inning of game two and would not score again until the ninth, but the Elks scratched out just one run against Landon Schirer after Tyler Frieders held them off for seven innings and the Pippins tied the series.

The Pippins narrowly edged out a 5-4 win in the finale, leaving just the Sweets with a chance to win the first half title away from the Pippins. That set up an exciting series in Walla Walla July 5-7.

The Pippins needed to win just one game, and got it out of the way early. After Walla got out to an early 2-1 lead, Alex Shanks hit a two-run home run to left field to give the Pippins a 3-2 lead. 

The Sweets were able to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, and the game remained tied until the top of the eighth inning, when Blake Dickman launched a two-run home run down the left field line to give the Pippins the lead. They would add another insurance run in the ninth to win 6-3 and secure the franchise’s first first-half title.

Continued Success in the Second Half

The Pippins welcomed in the Bellingham Bells to help kick off their second half of the season, and started the half with a 3-2 victory on July 9. Noah Williamson’s solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning turned out to be the difference.

The Bells dealt the Pippins their first shutout loss of the season in game two, but the Pippins rallied for a win in the finale. Down 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Blake Dickman launched a three-run home run to left field to tie the game. Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a double, and Chaz Myers drove him in to give the Pippins a 4-3 lead.

In the 2021 MLB Draft, the Miami Marlins selected Pippins outfielder Noah Williamson in the 19th round. Williamson had been leading the Pippins in runs scored, RBI and home runs, among other offensive categories.

The Pippins then played another three-game non-league series, this time hosting the Highline Bears. The Pippins swept the series handily, scoring 10 or more runs in each game. The series was capped off by Brock Molenda and Austin Plante hitting back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning of the finale.

After scoring 38 runs against the Bears, the Pippins were shutout in their next two games as they went on the road to Cowlitz. In game two, Cowlitz pitcher Myles Davis took a perfect game into the seventh inning before allowing his first runner on a walk. He kept the no-hitter alive into the eighth inning, when Alex Shanks singled to end his day.

The Black Bears turned to the bullpen and retired the next six straight for a 3-0, one-hit victory.

Willie Lajoie’s two-run home run in the first inning helped the Pippins squeak out a win in the finale to avoid the sweep.

The Pippins returned home and earned their third series sweep of the season as they downed the Bend Elks July 20-22. The Elks made the middle game interesting, tying the game in the sixth inning. Austin Plante brought Taylor Holder home on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to edge out the Elks, 6-5.

Riding high, the Pippins traveled to Wenatchee to face the AppleSox, the team that head coach Kyle Krustangel coached until 2019.

In his first game back, Krustangel led his team to a 15-5 victory against the AppleSox. Chaz Myers hit a solo home run in the first inning, and Spencer Marenco hit two home runs in the rout.

The Pippins were again out in front in game two, but Wenatchee turned to Skylar Hales in relief, who limited the Pippins to one hit over the last four-plus innings. The AppleSox offense also mounted a comeback and went on to win 15-7.

The series finale was much lower-scoring, and the Pippins pulled off the series win with a 5-1 victory.

Cowlitz took the trip to Yakima July 27-29, and the Pippins nearly swept them after a 12-8 win in the opener and 7-4 victory in the middle game. 

After the second game of the series, Williamson agreed to terms with the Miami Marlins to join the professional baseball ranks. He left the team and signed his first professional contract a few days later. 

The Black Bears took advantage of Landon Schirer loading the bases to start the ninth inning of the finale, scoring two runs to break a tie and going on to win 3-1 and avoid the sweep.

The Pippins celebrated Players’ Weekend July 30-31, with special jerseys featuring nicknames on the backs of the teams’ jerseys that were chosen by the players themselves.

The festivities began with a 9-5 victory over the Highline Bears and ended with a 22-2 drubbing of the Bears in game two. The climax of the night was Kenny Johnson’s pinch-hit, RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth inning. He would tag up and score on a sacrifice fly to score the final run of the weekend.

After a two-day break, the Pippins set out on the road for a six-game road trip, with drastically different results awaiting them at each end of the trip.

The Pippins traveled down to Corvallis for the first three games. Despite getting out to an early lead in all three games, the Knights came back and won all three to deal the Pippins their first sweep of the season.

Yakima Valley bounced back as they traveled north to Port Angeles and swept the Lefties. After Dylan Bishop completed six shutout innings in the opener, he allowed a two-run home run in the seventh inning and the Pippins turned to Case Matter. Matter would face nine batters to get through the final three innings, striking out all nine of them.

After a 10-1 win in game two, the Pippins found themselves locked up with the Lefties in the afternoon series finale as the game went into the 11th inning. The Pippins scored four runs to take an 11-7 lead, and Owen Wild allowed a pair of runs in his fourth inning of relief to finish off the 11-9 win.

The Pippins ended their regular season with a home set against the Wenatchee AppleSox August 10-12. The Pippins walked things off in the bottom of the ninth in game one after Blake Dickman hit a grounder up the middle that was muffed, allowing Sam Olsson to score the winning run.

After the Pippins won, and a corresponding Bellingham loss, the Pippins secured a second half championship in the North Division. This is the first season in which the Pippins won both halves of the regular season.

With the Pippins needing to rest some pitchers ahead of the playoffs, the AppleSox were able to end their season on a high note with a pair of wins to take the series win.

Home Field Advantage in the WCLDS

The Pippins’ 2021 playoff run got off to a rough start, as the Pippins used four pitchers – neither of whom lasted three innings – and the Bells pounced for a 14-1 win in Bellingham.

Game two returned to Yakima, and the Pippins combined great pitching with a six-run third inning to even the series. Seth Kuykendall allowed three runs (none earned) over 5.2 innings, but he left with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. Owen Wild came on in relief, striking out four over 3.1 innings of scoreless relief to give the Pippins a 6-3 win.

Kirby Robertson took the mound in the decisive game three, and after allowing a pair of runs in the top of the first inning, the Pippins offense scored four in the bottom half to take the lead. Both teams would score a run in the second inning, and the Pippins led 5-3 into the fifth inning.

In the fifth, the Pippins took four walks – two of them with the bases loaded – and added a two-run single by Sam Olsson as well as Willie Lajoie scoring on a wild pitch to take a 10-3 lead.

They would add a run in the eighth inning as Peysen Sweeney and Landon Schirer combined to finish the game and send the Pippins to their first-ever WCL Championship Series with an 11-5 win.

The First WCL Championship Series

Trying to unseat the four-time defending WCL Champion Corvallis Knights, the Pippins shocked everyone with a 4-1 victory at home on August 17. 

Peyton Stumbo took the ball in game one and over-delivered, turning in seven shutout innings against one of the best offenses in the WCL. He struck out four while allowing just three hits, and benefited from terrific defense behind him as well.

Taylor Holder led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a double, and he scored when Connor Coballes’ infield single was thrown away at first base to break the scoreless tie.

Case Matter entered in relief in the top of the eighth inning and struck out the first two batters he faced before Travis Bazzana smoked a ball into right field for a double. Matter earned his third strikeout of the inning against Briley Knight, but the ball skipped past catcher Michael Carpentier Jr., allowing Knight to reach and Bazzana to move to third base. Nick Vogt then singled through the right side of the infield to tie the game.

Carpentier Jr. led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run to right field to give the Pippins back the lead. They would add two more runs with two outs on back-to-back doubles by Alex Shanks and Holder, as well as a single by Chaz Myers.

Kenny Johnson turned in a great start in game two, allowing just two runs in five innings while striking out nine. But the Pippins offense was uncharacteristically quiet, scoring just one run against Corvallis starter Ty Uber.

Julian Taudin-Chabot, Payton Robertson and Dylan Bishop combined to keep Corvallis from adding to their lead, but the damage was done and the Knights evened the series with a 2-1 win.

The series concluded in Corvallis on August 20, with the Knights’ offense exploding for 13 runs and the Pippins struggling to generate sustained offense.

The Pippins fell 13-2 in the finale, and the Pippins’ historic run came to an end just short of their first WCL title.

By Chris Rosato Jr.

August 22, 2021