CHAMPIONS: Ogden Raptors make clutch plays to beat Billings for 2023 Pioneer League title
The Ogden Raptors won the Pioneer League’s South Division first-half title running away, recording a 31-17 record.
The team then slow-played the second half, including shelving top pitchers with various aches and pains and dead arms to prepare for the playoffs while also suffering a few season-ending injuries to limp to a 19-29 mark — a record that included a six-game sweep at the hands of the Billings Mustangs.
But none of that mattered Monday night in Game 2 of the league championship series when the Raptors won the ninth of their last 10 contests, including four straight that are the biggest of them all.
Mitchell Stone suppressed Billings for five innings, Raptors batters came through in nearly every big opportunity and won Ogden’s second league championship in the Raptors era with a 7-5 victory at Dehler Park in Billings, Montana.
After losing 11-0 to open the playoffs against Rocky Mountian, the Raptors turned in their best baseball of the season for four consecutive games to claim Ogden’s first trophy since 2017 with a 2-0 sweep of Billings.
Stone’s only trouble came when he hit Mustangs batters with pitches. He plunked Mikey Edie with two outs in the third inning when he looked well on the way to striking out the side, then Gabe Wurtz doubled him in to give Billings a 1-0 lead. The Raptors threw Taylor Lomack out at the plate trailing Edie to end the inning on the play — Josh Broughton to Rafael Narea to Logan Williams.
Ogden answered and took the lead for good in the top of the fourth after umpires, within the rules, reversed a double play that appeared to get Billings out of the inning.
With one out, Jonathan Soto, Landen Barns and Narea each singled to load the bases. Mustangs starter Cameron Repetti then got Dakota Conners to pop out to second baseman Luke Fennelly. Fennelly let the ball drop, touched second base to retire Narea and took a few steps to tag Barns off the bag at second.
But by all reason, the umpire near second should have called an infield fly, which retires the batter no matter the result of the play and does not require runners to advance. Ogden manager Kash Beauchamp made that very appeal. After umpires conferred, they agreed, calling Conners out and sending all baserunners (and fielders) back to the field.
Major League Baseball’s rulebook — the foundational rules for pro baseball in the United States, with some leagues like the PBL adding other facets to suit the league — states umpires may, in their discretion, eliminate all results and consequences that resulted in the play they are reversing if an appeal is made that an umpire’s decision conflicted with the rules of the game.
Repetti, resuming the inning he presumed was finished, then walked Ogden outfielder Cam Phelts to score a run.
That was only the start. Broughton ripped a triple to the left-center gap to clear the bases and give the Raptors a 4-1 lead. In all, Ogden hit 5 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Billings only had four plate appearances with runners in scoring position all night.
Barns singled in Juan Teixeira from second base to make it 5-1 in the fifth. With Broughton on third and with two outs in the sixth, Teixeira fisted a bloop single to centerfield, making it 6-1.
Stone’s night ended in the bottom of the sixth, again a hit-by-pitch creating problems, and posing Billings’ best scoring chance of the night. With one out, he hit Wurtz, surrendered a single to first baseman Alejandro Figueredo and walked Brendan Ryan to load the bases.
Brayden Bonner took over for Stone and hit Mitch Moralez on the first pitch he threw, making it 6-2. But with some fortitude, he rebounded to strike out pinch hitter Brady West to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
Stone’s line finished at two runs on four hits, striking out seven in 5 2/3 innings.
Soto led off the seventh with a double and scored when the catcher Williams singled him in for a 7-2 mark.
Billings catcher John Michael Faile slugged a solo homer to right-center to get the deficit to 7-3.
Trevor Jackson was dominant on the hill for Billings in the eighth and ninth innings, allowing one Ogden hit and striking out four.
But it didn’t matter. Raptors reliever Quinn Waterhouse induced a double play to pitch out of a minor threat in the seventh inning, and Foster Pace struck out two to follow Faile’s homer.
That got the ball to ace closer Dan Kubiuk, who threw 1 1/3 innings Saturday to finish the win in Game 1.
Kubiuk recorded his fourth save of the postseason — all four of Ogden’s wins — but not without drama and without giving up his first runs of the playoffs.
Moralez poked a leadoff single and with one out, Kubiuk made an ill-advised throw to first after slipping while fielding a Blake Evans tapper in front of the mound, sending it over Teixeira’s head.
Edie singled to right to score both baserunners and made a comeback a real possibility at 7-5.
But Kubiuk regrouped to strike out Lomack and Wurtz, sending the Raptors into a dogpile frenzy in the infield.