CHAMPIONS: Ogden Raptors win the 2017 Pioneer League Championship

Sunday , September 17, 2017 - 9:25 PM6 comments

BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner Staff

After 24 seasons of baseball, the Ogden Raptors are finally Pioneer League champions.

The offense utilized extra-base hits to produce runs, Edwin Uceta quieted thunderous Voyagers bats and Ogden defeated Great Falls 8-3 in Game 3 of the final series to win the league championship at Centene Stadium in Great Falls.

After Great Falls smoked 12 hits in seven innings to tune up the Raptors 15-3 in Game 2 earlier Sunday, Ogden regrouped thanks to a flurry of late extra-base hits that answered a Voyagers rally.

Ogden built a 3-0 lead through 3 1/2 innings. Great Falls got to Uceta for the first time in the bottom of the fourth to make it 3-1, but the Raptors answered.

With two outs in the top of the fifth, Mitchell Hansen drew what seemed like a harmless walk. But Brayan Morales drove his second hit of the series into the left-center gap for a triple to score Hansen. Connor Heady followed with a double to score Morales and give Ogden a 5-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Ogden reliever Zach Hartman struggled with walks and a balk to help Great Falls cut the deficit to 5-3, but the Raptors kept roping extra-basers to answer again.

With Jhoan Quijada pitching, Donovan Casey led off the top of the sixth with a double. Luis Paz doubled to score Casey, then Romer Cuadrado doubled to score Paz, giving Ogden a 7-3 lead.

It was a barrage of five extra-base hits in six at-bats for the Raptors.

After two outs, Morales singled to score Cuadrado and put Ogden ahead 8-3.

Conor Costello pitched a scoreless sixth, setting up lights-out lefty Justin Hoyt in the final seventh inning.

Hoyt, nearly flawless over the final month of the season, was perfect in the final frame, bringing home the title by getting Anthony Villa to fly out to Morales in center field to end the game.

After a raucous celebration on the field, Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy presented manager Mark Kertenian and principal owners Dave Baggott and John E. Lindquist with the championship trophy.

The championship is Ogden’s first since the Raptors were born in 1994, which brought professional baseball back to Junction City. It was the first title series win in five tries, with Ogden losing in the final round in 1996 and 2010-12.

Pre-dating the Raptors, it was the first time since 1969 that Ogden has won a Pioneer League championship.

The title puts the cherry on top of what was already the best season in Raptors team history. Ogden went 47-29 in the regular season, eclipsing its previous best win total of 44, and blasted a team-record 104 home runs in the process.

After a disastrous start from Osiris Ramirez earlier Sunday in Game 2, the right-handed Uceta helped the Raptors calm the Voyagers in Game 3.

Uceta kept the Voyagers off the board through three innings, pitching two perfect frames and using a double play to hold off a bases-loaded threat in the second inning. He gave up three hits and one run in four innings.

He also took the mound with a 2-0 lead thanks to Hansen, who roped a double into right field to score Casey and Cuadrado in the top of the first.

Both games Sunday were seven innings, a scheduled doubleheader after Game 2 was postponed Saturday when rain created poor field conditions in Great Falls.

GAME 2: Great Falls 15, Ogden 3

One win away from their first Pioneer League Championship, the Ogden Raptors pitched a dud in Game 2 Sunday afternoon in Great Falls.

Nate Nolan smacked two home runs, including a first-inning grand slam, three Ogden pitchers lasted only 1/3 of an inning, and the Voyagers bashed the Raptors 15-3 in a seven-inning game.

Game 2 started promising, with Rylan Bannon hitting a solo home run, his third dinger of the series, to put the Raptors up 1-0 in the first inning.

But Ogden starter Osiris Ramirez recorded only one out and left with Great Falls leading 2-1. Christian Stolo promptly gave up the Nolan grand slam and a solo shot from David Cronin during what became an eight-run inning for the home team.

Stolo gave up six home runs in his last six innings of the season.

Great Falls scored five runs in the fourth to turn the rout into a laugher, which included a bases-loaded triple from Cronin.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net, on Twitter @bhein3 and at facebook.com/brettheinwrites.

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