RIDGEFIELD — A blown ninth-inning lead and loss one night prior was still fresh in the minds of Ridgefield Raptors players Friday.
So when the Bellingham Bells broke a 2-2 tie with two runs in the top of the ninth, the Raptors had the look a team determined to avoid a similar ending.
Ridgefield rallied to score a pair of runs with RBI from Reiss Calvin and Jake Tsukada to force extra innings.
That led to the bottom of the 11th, where Justin Stransky’s lead-off base hit represented the winning run. Two batters later, as Stransky attempted to steal third base, Bellingham catcher Colton Bower airmailed a throw over third baseman Cole Yoshida, allowing Stransky to run home for a walk-off, 5-4 win at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
Judging by the reactions of Raptors players as they stormed the field and mobbed Stransky near home plate, the result meant more to them than a typical win.
Why? It all had to do with Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the Portland Pickles, in which the Raptors gave up four runs in the ninth and were unable to come back.
“After a tough loss yesterday, this was just so much better,” Calvin said. “I was really not trying to lose, I know our team was really not trying to lose and we finished it this time.
“I never had a doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t come back … and we did it.”
The ending capped a back-and-forth game between the two West Coast League first-half division winners. Ridgefield became the first team to clinch a playoff berth Wednesday by winning the South Division first half. On Thursday, Bellingham claimed the North Division first-half title.
Ridgefield took a 1-0 lead on a Trent Prokes sacrifice fly in the second inning, but the Raptors found hits and scoring opportunities to be scarce against Bellingham’s pitching staff, which has the best earned-run average (2.58) in the WCL.
Bellingham starting pitcher Ryan Beitel gave up just one hit through four innings, before Ridgefield regained a 2-1 lead in the fifth on a Calvin RBI single. Bells relief pitcher followed with two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh with three strikeouts.
“They were really good,” Calvin said. “A lot of strikes, some fastballs, not getting behind in the count … so they did really well.”
Ridgefield’s Joseph Jasso, making his first start of the season, put together a solid six-inning performance to match the Bells.
The right-handed pitcher, a recent South East High School graduate from Los Angeles, wasn’t flashy, but effective by scattering four hits and giving up just one run, a Daryl Ruiz RBI single in the third. He exited after the sixth with Ridgefield holding a 2-1 lead.
That lead was safe until the ninth, when Bellingham broke a 2-2 tie. Ridgefield’s Mikey Miller started with a walk and hit batter, leading to the Raptors calling Logan Saloman out of the bullpen.
With runners at second and third, a ground ball found its way to Saloman, who tried to grab the ball and flip it to Stransky with his glove. But the wayward ball got behind home plate, allowing two Bellingham runs to score.
The Raptors’ bounce back in the bottom half bought them more time to regroup in extra innings. The win was their first since clinching a playoff berth Wednesday. Although the team plans to give more playing time to bench players in the second half of the season, wins remain just as meaningful to the Raptors. How they celebrated Friday was proof of that.
“We’re happy about it, but we’re not done yet,” Calvin said of the playoff spot. “There’s still a championship, and we’ve got to get there. We’re not going to take anything light.”
Go-ahead base hit – Following a Corey Nunez leadoff single in the fifth, which was only the Raptors’ second hit at the time, Reiss Calvin followed with a single into the gap between first and second base to bring Nunez home. Ridgefield took a 2-1 lead.
Run-saving snag – With a runner in scoring position, Ridgefield’s Jake Tsukada snagged a hard-hit ball down the third base line and flipped to first to make the final out of the sixth inning.
Another Raptors rally – Down to their final three outs in the ninth, Ridgefield loaded the bases with one out on a Nunez single and a pair of walks. Ridgefield scored its first run on a Calvin ground ball, which was fielded in the infield and dropped at home plate. Tsukada’s sacrifice fly brought in the tying run.
Justin Stransky – A pair of hustle plays late from the Fresno State signee made all the difference for the Raptors. At catcher, Stransky threw out a Bellingham runner attempting to steal second to finish the top of the 11th. In the bottom half, Stransky scored the winning run after taking advantage of
Corey Nunez – The UC Santa Barbara product went 3-for-4 to lead the Raptors in hitting and scored a pair of runs.
Joseph Jasso – Making his first start of the season, Jasso was quietly effective in six innings on the mound. Jasso had one strikeout, three walks, scattered four hits and gave up one earned run.
5 – Walk-off wins this season for the Raptors, including two in extra innings.
71 – Pitches thrown by Jasso in six efficient innings on the mound.
2.58 – Bellingham’s combined team ERA coming into Friday’s series opener. The Bells have the best ERA in the WCL out of 16 teams.