Christian J. Stewart
The Victoria HarbourCats scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, capped by a RBI single to deep centre from Po-Hao “Bernie” Huang, to give the ‘Cats a dramatic 5-4 walk-off victory over the Corvallis Knights in a classic, back-and-forth, nail-biting opening game of the 2017 West Coast League (WCL) Championship, Saturday night in front of WCL playoff record crowd of 2,789 at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.
It was a historic night at Royal Athletic Park as the Victoria HarbourCats, in their fifth season in the West Coast League (WCL), were appearing in their first ever Championship series, doing battle against the Knights, who were making their ninth appearance in their 11-year history.
Saturday’s game was typical of a classic championship match-up with the teams slowly feeling one another out in a slow first inning and then exchanging runs in the second, thanks to a laser beam home run by the Knight’s Elliot Willy off Victoria starter Adam McKillican and an RBI-single from Victoria’s Shane McGuire off Corvallis starter Jordan Horak, scoring DJ Porter who led the inning off with a single.
After McKillican would cruise through the third and fourth innngs, the HarbourCats would have a chance to break things open in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with two outs, thanks to a double by Kevin Collard, and walks to Ethan Lopez and Shane McGuire.
That would be it for Knights starter Horak who would be replaced by lefty Jacob Fricke. Fricke would then get Justin Orton to ground into a fielder’s choice and the Knights got out of the inning, leaving the score tied at 1-1.
That score would hold until the top of the sixth when the Knight’s Matt Kelly would lay a bunt down the third base line and then get all the way to third when HarbourCats third baseman Huang would bounce the throw past first and into right field. Kelly would then come in to score on a scarifice fly from Jordan Qsar and the Knights led 2-1.
Victoria would get that back and jump into a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning when DJ Porter would lead things off with single and eventually score on an Ethan Lopez single. Harrison Bragg, who was hit by a Fricke pitch, would then score on wild pitch.
As the rain began to fall on Victoria, the Knights would strike for one off McKillican in the top of the seventh, when Chad Stevens would score on a Taylor Travess single. After Matt Kelly was hit by a pitch, HarbourCats reliever Mike Musselwhite would replace McKillican and end the threat, but the Knights would add another in the top of the eighth, this time off ‘Cats reliever Taylor Prokopis, to jump back into a 4-3 lead.
After Corvallis reliever Hazahel Quijada held the ‘Cats scoreless in the eighth and Prokopis and the ‘Cats fourth pitcher of the night, Dylan Thorp, did the same to the Knights in the top of the ninth, Victoria set the stage for the dramatic comeback.
Quijada would walk the ‘Cats Orton to lead things off and then give up a single to Andrew Shaps moving Orton to third. A Tucker Johnson sacrifice fly would score Orton to tie the game, setting the stage for Huang, who drilled a 3-2 pitch to deep centre, scoring Shaps and sending the HarbourCats off the bench in celebration and giving the ‘Cats the 5-4 win.
Huang’s dramatics for the HarbourCats overshadowed a three-hit night for Victoria’s DJ Porter, who also scored two runs. McGuire finished with a two hit night and an RBI, while Collard added a double. For the Knights Shrum and Matt Kelly had two hit evenings to lead the nine-hit Corvallis attack.
Victoria’s Dylan Thorp gets the win in relief, with starter McKillican going 6.2 innings and giving up three runs on seven hits while walking just one and striking out five. Quijada takes the tough loss for the Knights.
The teams will now enjoy a day off and resume game two of the series on Monday in Corvallis. Game three if needed will happen in Corvallis on Tuesday.