OGDEN — It was a hot Sunday afternoon, and the sun was bearing overhead through splotches of clouds — the kind of day that at this point of the season can wilt road-weary minor league baseball teams.
Dog days of August? Not so much for the Ogden Raptors.
Devon Ethier’s two-run single in the sixth proved to be the game-winning hit, as the Raptors held on for a 7-5 win over the Billings Mustangs on Sunday afternoon at Lindquist Field, sweeping the Mustangs in the process.
Ogden (16-12, 37-29) has now won 10 of its last 13 games, setting up a two-game showdown with Orem starting Tuesday that could go a long way to deciding the Pioneer League South division second-half champion.
The Raptors, who won the first-half title, trail division-leading Orem by a half-game in the standings and with a sweep could take over first place.
“We’re trying to win both halves,” Ethier said. “That’s the goal. ... Especially going against Orem. They’ve always been good competition for us.”
After adding single runs in the fourth and fifth, Ethier’s two-out hit in the sixth capped a three-run inning that ended up providing just enough cushion.
Jesus Valdez led off with a single, then Mustangs pitcher Carlos Ramos hit two batters to load the bases. After a run-scoring groundout from Kevin Thompson, Ethier pulled a single past the third baseman, giving the Raptors a four-run lead.
“I was looking for the fastball, just looking to put something in play,” Ethier said. “That’s all I could do, really, especially with guys on second and third, two outs. I put a good swing on it, and it happened to kind of trickle through the infield.”
The Mustangs got two in the eighth and one in the ninth, bringing the tying run to the plate in the process, but reliever Alan Garcia shut the door for the save.
Starter Ross Stripling was again excellent for the Raptors. The right-hander, who has been on an innings limit the whole season, didn’t allow an earned run and worked into the fourth for the first time with the Raptors, in an effort to stretch him out for the postseason.
Stripling, who in his limited innings has been the Raptors’ best starter, lowered his ERA to 0.85 with the performance.
“I made fun of him today. I said, ‘You finally earned a paycheck,’” said Raptors manager Damon Berryhill. “It’s nice to give him an opportunity to get stretched out a bit, let him get a little deeper into a ballgame.”
Ethier and Valdez, who each went 2 for 4 were the only Raptors with multiple hits.
There was a testy exchange in the fourth inning when Jose Amezcua hit consecutive Raptors batters, but the situation didn’t escalate.
The sweep was the Raptors’ first in a three-game series since early July against Grand Junction.
Following today’s off-day, the Raptors have a two-game series at Orem before returning home.