PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The Manitoba North Stars took advantage of an excellent outing from starting pitcher Jensen Kirch to defeat the Toronto Rush, 5-1. The No. 3 North Stars advance to the California Winter League Championship on Sunday, February 18 at noon.
Toronto got on the board in the first inning after Connor Hoffman doubled with one out. Hoffman moved to third after an error, and scored on a Tanner Klein sacrifice fly.
That would be all for the Rush offense against Kirch, who followed a one-run first inning with 5.1 scoreless frames. Manitoba would eventually tie the game in the third.
Connor Ryan started the inning with a double. With two outs, Cory Slater ripped a single to center that scored Ryan.
In the fifth, Will Krug reached on a groundball that found its way into left-centerfield. After Krug’s league-leading 17th stolen base, David Kerian sent him home on an RBI double to go up 2-1.
Manitoba managed three runs of insurance in the top of the seventh. Dylon Rodman started the rally with a pinch-hit single and Krug followed with a base hit of his own to put runners on first and second in front of Adrian Guzman.
Guzman ripped a double that scored Rodman. Krug then sprinted home on a wild pitch and Kerian notched his second RBI in two at-bats with a base hit to score Guzman to give the North Stars a 5-1 advantage.
Kirch got the win after allowing one run on five hits with five strikeouts and four walks in 6.1 innings. Walter Rook IV took the tough loss after allowing five runs (four earned) on 10 hits with five strikeouts and no walks in 6+ innings.
Extra innings were needed in the American division championship game between the No. 3 Washington Blue Sox and No. 4 Palm Springs Chill. The Blue Sox edged out the Chill in thrilling fashion in nine innings, 4-3, on Mark Culmer’s walkoff double.
The scoring started with the Chill taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Ryan Weston and Rakim Smith each had RBI singles. In the bottom of the second, the Blue Sox answered to cut the lead in half on Cody Den Beste’s RBI single. All three runs scored in the second inning came with two outs.
The Blue Sox then took a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Den Beste’s RBI fielder’s choice grounder tied the game, then Zach Compton brought home the go-ahead run on a single to left field. But the Chill came right back to tie the game in the fifth on Elijah Briseno’s RBI double down the right field line.
Neither team scored over the next three drama-filled innings, which featured both clubs getting out of bases loaded jams with less than two outs in the fifth inning. Blue Sox starter Jake Moore was taken out of the game with runners at second and third and no outs in favor of Will Marshall.
Marshall struck out Zach Nehrir for the first out, and after an intentional walk to Barbee to load the bases, Marshall struck out James Lunardelli and got Zach Files to hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. For the Chill, Richard Mariano walked two batters and hit one to load the bases with one out, then got Drake Yoshioka to hit into a double play to end the inning.
The game calmed down until the ninth inning, when the international baseball tiebreaker rule, where each team starts their half of the inning with a runner on second base, was put into effect.
With two outs in the ninth and the bases empty, after Compton popped up a bunt attempt into a double play, KC Huth singled to left field. Culmer followed with a double over Barbee’s head in left field, scoring Huth from first and giving the Blue Sox a walkoff win.
In an all-around well-played, exciting game, Adam Falcon got the win for the Blue Sox, throwing a scoreless ninth inning. Brandon Warner took the loss for the Chill. Marshall didn’t factor in a decision, but his four-shutout innings were crucial and kept the Blue Sox in a position to win the game.
The Blue Sox will play the Manitoba North Stars in the 2018 California Winter League Championship Game tomorrow (Sunday) at 12 p.m. at Palm Springs Stadium. Those not in attendance may listen to the broadcast live on CaliforniaWinterLeague.com.