VIDEO: Grapes Rally, Collapse in Series Loss to Stars
The Hawai’i Stars appeared to have an easy win in their grasp with a five run lead after six innings before the Sonoma County Grapes tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning.
In the end, a walk-off fielder’s choice off of the bat of Brendan Davis saved the day, giving the Stars a 7-6 win on Tuesday night before a small, late-arriving crowd at Wong Stadium.
The bottom half of the ninth inning turned out to be pure disaster for the Grapes (9-16) and reliever Vinny Pacchetti. Matt Hibbert reached base to lead off the inning when Chris Debiasi, making his entrance in the top half of the inning, booted a routine ground ball at second base off of his glove. After a Dion Pouncil bunt single, Pacchetti (1-2) backed himself into a dark corner by sailing a pickoff throw intended for second base into center field, allowing both runners to advance. After a walk to Anthony Lopez, Davis hit a weak ground ball to the right side of the infield, creating a tricky play to record an out at any base. Hibbert scored easily, and the Stars were able to celebrate a win to open the series.
The Stars (13-12) would not have had to squeeze out the victory if it wasn’t for a furious rally by the visitors through the seventh and eighth innings. Down 6-1 in the seventh inning, the Grapes smashed some life into their offense with a solo home run from Mark Micowski, his second big fly of the season.
Then, in the eighth, Sonoma County chased Hawai’i starter Ronnie Loeffler, who picked up the first two outs of the inning but could not finish the frame. Brandon Gregorich started the two-out madness with an RBI down the right field line that brought home DJ Dixon. Frederick Atkins followed with a deep drive to right center field that touched down in front of the fence, scoring Gregorich to put Sonoma County within two runs.
Steve Raburn Jr. made his debut for the Stars with the tying run at the plate, and quickly tossed a wild pitch that allowed Atkins to advance to third base. Shortly after that, Micowski came through with a triple that rolled all the way down the left field line, scoring Atkins to cut the deficit to 6-5. Two batters later, and runners at the corners, the Grapes tried a delayed double-steal, also known as a “jump off” play. Sam Perry broke for second, and the Stars tried to throw him out to end the inning, but as soon as the throw reached the base, Micowski raced home and stunned the home squad with the game tying run.
Despite getting tagged in the eighth, Raburn settled down in the ninth and was credited with the win. He allowed a run on two hits with one strikeout, three wild pitches, and a hit batter.
The Grapes were the first to tally a run in the game, running a similar delayed steal as they used to tie the game in the eighth inning. With one out and runners at the corners, Bunyu Maeda broke toward second base. Stars catcher Adam Jacobs sailed his throw wide of second base, giving his defense no chance to catch George Ban before he could cross home plate with the first run of the game.
The Stars would get to Matthew Gibbs in the middle innings to open up a big lead. In the fourth, Arnoldo Ponce ripped a single by the diving Michael Johnson at third base, scoring Anthony Lopez from third base to tie the game at one. Jacobs followed that with a ground ball out to Johnson that scored Brendan Davis from third base to give Hawai’i a 2-1 lead after four innings.
The game broke wide open in the fifth inning, which happened to be the final inning for Gibbs in the contest. Steve Tedesco led off the inning with a rare double that barely left the infield. Shortstop Perry watched the ball take a tricky hop under his glove and roll into left field, and with no one racing to retrieve the baseball, Tedesco found himself at second base. Two batters later, following a steal of third base, Pouncil hit a ground ball to Grapes first baseman Gregorich, who was late with his throw to home plate, allowing Tedesco to score on a fielder’s choice. After a walk to Lopez, Davis hit a pedestrian single that trickled through the infield. It became costly when left fielder Ban watched the ball go by, allowing Pouncil and Lopez to score. Two batters later, Ponce smacked a double to deep right field to score Davis, giving the Stars a 6-1 lead.
Both starters picked up no decisions in the contest. Loeffler looked sharp through the first five innings, then labored his way through the final few before getting chased with a no decision. The Waiakea and University of Hawaii at Hilo graduate allowed five runs on six hits with six strikeouts and two walks. He kept his pitch count down until the very end, throwing 37 pitches in the final inning and two-thirds, pushing his final count to 95.
Gibbs looked good through his first three innings for the Grapes before falling apart in the fourth and fifth innings. In his five innings of work, he allowed six runs on seven hits, striking out four and walking three batters through 89 pitches. Jeffrey Lyons followed with three innings of stellar relief, striking out four, allowing a hit, and walking a batter. Pacchetti failed to record an out while allowing a walk, a hit, and an unearned run in the ninth.
Tedesco picked up three hits in the game, and in his last three outings, has raised his batting average 66 points to a modest .230 clip. Ponce also picked up three hits for the home team, raising his batting average to .230.
For the Grapes, Micowski extended his hitting streak to six games with a triple and a home run in the contest. Maeda was the only other player to string together a pair of hits.
Game two of the six-game series is Wednesday at Wong Stadium beginning at 5:35 p.m.
Sonoma County 001 000 140 – 6 8 3
Hawai’i 000 240 001 – 7 9 0