After strong Gonzalez start, GJ Rockies rally to end Ogden Raptors’ season
OGDEN — The winner-takes-all Game 3 between the Grand Junction Rockies and Ogden Raptors was moved up 1 1/2 hours to a 5 p.m. start due to impending thunderstorms in the night-time forecast for the Ogden area.
Raptors starter Jorge Gonzalez was still ready to go and it seemed he might throw Ogden into the Pioneer League championship series. But once he was removed, the Rockies pounced.
Grand Junction jumped on two relievers, turning a three-run deficit into a 6-4 lead in the seventh on the way to an 8-5 victory at Lindquist Field, claiming the South Divisional playoff series 2-1 and sending Ogden to yet another heartbreaking playoff exit in the divisional round.
Gonzalez was nearly untouchable in his six innings of work, allowing one run on an RBI groundout in the second inning and surrendering just two hits. He struck out six and walked one.
His teammates provided some run support at the plate. Third baseman Alejandro Rivero hit his second no-doubt homer in as many days, a two-run blast to score himself and Pat Adams to give Ogden a 2-0 lead in the first.
With two outs in the second, catcher Sonny Ulliana cracked a double and second baseman Dakota Conners followed with a two-bagger to left-center to score Ulliana and make it a 3-1 ballgame.
Adams led off the third with a double, giving Ogden three doubles in four at-bats, but he was left on third base.
First baseman Freddy Achecar led off the fourth inning with a solo homer to right field for a 4-1 advantage and, despite the team’s second-half scuffles and the Game 1 beating, it looked like the Raptors were in position to knock off a Grand Junction squad who had a better overall record through the season.
Gonzalez ended his night putting the Rockies down in order in the fifth and sixth innings, striking out three in the sequence.
The Raptors had a chance to blow the game open in the bottom half of the sixth. Grand Junction made a pitching change to Josh Ibarra and center fielder Reese Alexiades met him with an infield single to shortstop, beating out the throw.
Ulliana followed with a single to centerfield, with Alexiades speeding around to third base. Dustyn Macaluso pinch-ran for Ulliana and stole second base as Conners struck out.
GJ made the decision to intentionally walk the speedy Josh Broughton and load the bases with one out. It paid off, as Adams grounded to first base and Alexiades was thrown out with a force at home plate. Jesus Valdez followed with a tap-out grounder to the pitcher’s mound, and the Rockies had escaped.
Ogden failed to land a knockout punch and Gonzalez was simultaneously taken out of the game having thrown 86 pitches. It was as though a wind of change had already blown into the stadium.
Despite having at least three relievers who did not pitch Wednesday, the Raptors went to right-hander Miguel Cirino in the seventh inning for his second straight night of work. What transpired was the visitors sluffing off their two-hit performance and racking up seven hits in one inning alone.
Shortstop Shawn Ross started the ominous inning with an end-of-the-bat poke to right field, and designated hitter Casey Peterson followed with a single off the right field wall.
Even then, it looked like Ogden might get out of it unscathed when Jaylen Hubbard lined out to Broughton in shallow right field. Broughton spun and hopped in one motion, firing with his notorious strong arm to the plate. The throw was slightly up the third-base line but Ulliana handled it cleanly and got Ross on the back as he slid past. No runs, two outs.
But Cirino couldn’t end it. Colin Gordon singled to right, and Cirino hit Tyler Sandoval to load the bases. Ogden turned to lefty Adam Scoggins, who also pitched Wednesday, and he couldn’t escape to hold the lead. Josh Elvir singled to score two and make it 4-3. Alex Neilsen and Joe Johnson singled, scoring two more to put the Rockies up 5-4, and Jacob Cruce followed with a broken-bat single for a 6-4 lead.
McCabe entered and threw to one batter, striking out Ross to end it.
More drama came in the bottom of the seventh when Brian Dansereau walked and Achecar singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Grand Junction went to righty Kyler Patterson, who pitched in the exact same scenario Wednesday and gave up an RBI single and a three-run homer.
Patterson redeemed himself, inducing Alexiades into an inning-ending, double-play groundout.
Ogden removed McCabe and inserted lefty Jake Mulholland for the eighth inning; he threw two stellar innings Wednesday. He failed to record an out, giving up a Peterson single and a Hubbard double before intentionally walking Gordon to load the bases with no outs.
He handed the ball and the tall task to Riley Ottesen. A run scored on a wild pitch and Sandoval drove in another with a sacrifice fly to make it 8-4 before Ottesen retired two batters.
The promising start had fallen completely apart.
Ogden had more chances. In the eighth, it came via two fielding errors. Conners singled, and Adams and Valdez reached via bad throws to score Conners for an 8-5 score. GJ gave the ball to Trevin Reynolds to face Rivero, who represented the tying run and had two big-time swings to change games this series. He struck out Rivero to end the inning.
Ottesen cleaned up the top of the ninth and Dansereau gave Ogden one last glimmer of hope by singling to lead off the bottom half. Achecar hit a liner on the nose to the track in left, but right at Neilsen. Alexiades hit a deep fly to the track on left-side of the nook created by Raptor Ridge — the deepest part of the park — for an out.
Ulliana ran out an infield single to bring the tying run to the plate again, but Conners flew out to center on the first pitch he saw, sending the Rockies into a wild celebration.