Bakersfield & Billings Win Openers

The minor league playoffs have begun with Bakersfield and Billings both winning their first game to take 1-0 leads in the California and Pioneer Leagues. Both teams overcame deficits and pulled away by scoring in each of their final four at-bats.

Bakersfield opened their post season with an 11-7 win over visiting Visalia to take a 1-0 lead in the first round of the California League playoffs. As is often the case with minor league split seasons, the Blaze roster has undergone a makeover from the version that clinched a spot with the league’s best first half record, but that didn’t stop the home team from overcoming an early two-run deficit before scoring in their final four at-bats to come away with the win.

The Blaze took an early lead in first inning when Beau Amaral led off with a walk and came home on a single from Marquez Smith. They regained the lead for good with a three-run third that included a double from Amaral, another run-scoring hit by Smith, single from Sean Buckley, and RBI-singles off the bats of Juan Perez and Sammy Diaz.

A couple of innings later they added on when Diaz plated another run after a Harold Riggins double. Then they blew the game open with a two-run home run by Smith in the sixth. The next frame they piled on when Joe Hudson popped a two-run homer and Junior Arias stroked an RBI-double. Diaz struck yet again with single in the eight that plated his team’s final run.

Smith and Diaz led the offensive effort with three hits each and combined for seven RBI. Beau Amaral did his job leading off with two doubles, a walk, and four runs scored. Perez, Riggins, and Hudson also contributed multi-hit games with two apiece. On the mound Daniel Wright got the win from a quality start when he allowed three runs off eight hits over seven innings while striking out five. Four relievers, including Smith teamed up to pitch the final two innings, allowing four runs.

Wright now leads the Blaze with eleven wins, one more than departed Ben Lively and his 4.14 ERA would be in the league’s top ten if he had a few more innings needed to qualify. The 6’2”/205# right-hander started the season at Dayton and earned a promotion from keeping a 2.06 ERA after ten appearances. Diaz has hit .327 in 34 games since his promotion from the Dragons in the second half of this year. Riggins is a midseason pick-up after he left the Colorado organization.

Billings also got their postseason started right when they won 10-3 over visiting Great Falls to take a 1-0 lead in the Pioneer League first round. They erased a brief deficit when Brian O’Grady led off the first with a walk and stole home later in the inning. Cory Thompson gave his team the lead when he tripled following a hit by Kevin Franklin in the next frame.

The Voyagers didn’t give up and retook the lead with a two-run rally in the fifth but like Bakersfield, Billings scored in their last four at-bats to pull away. The go-ahead run came from a two-run homer by O’Grady in the bottom of the inning. Later they added on from an RBI-double by Franklin in the sixth and a sac fly from Argenis Aldazoro in the seventh. After that they finished off their offensive effort with four in the eight including RBI hits from Jimmy Pickens and Ty Washington before O’Grady struck again by doubling in two more runs in the eighth.

Washington led the Mustangs with three of their eleven hits and scored three runs while O’Grady, Pickens, and Franklin added two hits apiece. Wyatt Strahan got the start, but not the decision after allowing one run (none earned) off two hits/ one walk in the first four innings. Jeremy Kivel relieved him and didn’t make it out of sixth, but his timing was good for the win. Jordan Remer and Scott Brattvet closed the game by combining for three-plus scoreless frames with Brattvet getting the save.

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