Jim Swanson, Victoria HarbourCats
The Victoria HarbourCats extended their West Coast League record win streak to 17 games with a 7-6 win on Wednesday night in Wenatchee. The win sweeps the season series with the AppleSox, six games split home-and-away, and puts the HarbourCats on the verge of clinching the North Division first half title.
It would be the first playoff berth in Victoria’s WCL history, with the team now in its fourth year, and second year under local ownership, and head coach Graig Merritt.
Right-hander Kyle Mora (UCLA) made his HarbourCats debut, opposed by AppleSox lefty Justin Blatner (Gonzaga/2-0, 0.77 ERA) making his third start.
Wenatchee opened the scoring quickly in this one, scoring twice in the bottom of the first on one hit, as well as two walks and a run-scoring wild pitch in a rocky beginning for Mora.
Resiliency has been a core characteristic throughout this HarbourCats streak, and they displayed it again on this evening, striking back immediately with three runs in the top of the second.
Right fielder AJ Alcantara (UC Irvine) led off with his second home run of the season, Ryan Anderson (UC Davis) followed with a double and scored later on an error by the pitcher Blatner on a ball off the bat of third baseman Brad Pluschkell (UC Davis) who later scored the third run of the inning on an infield single by Tommy Jew.
After a scoreless second inning for Mora, the HarbourCats extended their lead in the third when second baseman Griffin Andreychuk (Seattle) scored on an Anderson sacrifice fly after leading off with a double. A Pluschkell double would later score Alcantara from first base to make the score 5-2 before the inning concluded.
The AppleSox responded in the bottom of the third, getting a two-run home run by catcher Michael Toglia (Washington) to draw within a run and end the night of Mora, who pitched 2.1 innings allowing four earned runs on four hits and three walks without a strikeout. Right-hander Skyler Henderson (Vernon College) came out of the bullpen and ended the inning without further damage.
Blatner would settle in for Wenatchee, retiring eight straight HarbourCats hitters to end his outing, finishing with five runs, three earned on eight hits with four strikeouts over his six innings. Meanwhile, the HarbourCats bullpen duo of Henderson and Casey Costello (Orange Coast College) held Wenatchee scoreless on three hits and two walks, as the 5-4 HarbourCats lead stood until the bottom of the sixth inning.
In that bottom of the sixth, an unearned run scored on an error by shortstop Tommy Jew (UC Santa Barbara) with two out, allowing Evan Douglas (Lewis-Clark St.) to score for the AppleSox, evening the game at 5.
Wenatchee turned to lefty Nick Hoefling (Seattle) in the seventh, and once again the HarbourCats answered a Wenatchee score, counting two on an Alcantara bases loaded single cashing Andreychuk and Jew to reclaim the lead, 7-5. Hoefling recorded just one out, surrendering two runs on two hits and a walk before giving way to left-hander Dylan Riddle to get out of the inning.
Right-hander Josh Mitchell (Pitt) worked a perfect inning of relief before giving way to Colin Ashworth (Orange Coast College) who recorded a strikeout to end the bottom of the seventh.
Wenatchee drew back within a run in the bottom of the eighth when third baseman Shane Martinez (Arizona) drove in left fielder Otis Statum (Nevada), signaling the end of the night for Ashworth as Merritt turned to his sixth pitcher of the game in right-hander Greg Casper (South Dakota State) with two out in the inning.
Casper would end the eighth and then close out the save with two strikeouts in the ninth inning. The game ended on a caught stealing of right fielder Jordan Rathbone (Gonzaga) by HarbourCats catcher Hayden Jaco (Vernon College).
The win extends the HarbourCats league record win streak to 17 games, and reduces their magic number to one, to clinch the West Coast League North Division first half title. The HarbourCats have an opportunity to clinch the first half division and a playoff berth on Thursday night at home versus Kelowna.