Strong Relief Pitching, Late Rally Lead Pippins’ Opening-Night Win

LONGVIEW, Washington — Strong relief pitching from Jackson Betancourt and Payton Graham shut down Cowlitz in the late innings, and the Yakima Valley Pippins used a three-run eighth to snap a tie and go on for a 6-4 season-opening West Coast League victory over the Black Bears on Friday.

Graham came on in the ninth and turned back a final Cowlitz rally for his first save. The Black Bears loaded the bases with two outs on a walk and a hit batter before scoring their final run on a single. Graham, who topped out at 96 mph in the inning, then got a strikeout to end the game.

The Pippins broke a 3-3 tie with RBI singles from Mike Woodward and Maxim Fullerton, and a sacrifice fly by Gil Melchione.

Jaydon Tomas tossed 3.1 hitless innings in his first start for the Pippins before starting to tire. Cowlitz scored runs in both the fourth and fifth innings — both charged to Tomas, who finished his night surrendering five hits in 4.2 innings. Betancourt came on in relief in the fifth with the score 3-3 and notched a strikeout to end the inning.

While the Pippins’ bats were silenced in the middle of the game, Betancourt returned the favor for 3.1 shutout innings of his own. He added strikeouts and was exactly what the Pipps needed to remain in the game. But the momentum swing came from the defense behind Betancourt.

In the bottom of the seventh, with Cowlitz runners on first and second with no outs, Chase Elliot hit a fly ball to center that Hank Dunn easily tracked down. Dunn then fired to Beck Maguire at third in time to tag out a Black Bear trying to advance to complete the 8-5 momentum-changing double play and end the inning.

The Pippins, who trailed 1-0 after the first inning, scored three runs in the second when Beck Maguire was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded before Dunn followed with a single that plated two runs.

Fullerton finished 3-for-3 and Matt Chavez went 2-for-4 for the Pippins.

The Yakima Valley-Cowlitz series continues at 6:35 p.m. today at David Story Field before concluding with a 1:05 p.m. Sunday game. Stream the live broadcast at

By Logan Peter

June 3, 2023