On Wednesday night, the Beloit Snappers traveled to Clinton to play Game 1 of their Best of Three Midwest League Quarterfinal. The LumberJacks are one of the hottest teams in all of baseball. They won the final ten games of the regular season and won 17 of their last 18 games. They won the division’s second half title by 10 games. However, on this night, the two teams went back and forth for nine innings, and in the end, the Snappers won Game 1 by a score of 8-6 in a game where literally every player contributed to the win.
As hitting coach and former Twins infielder Tommy Watkins stated after the game, “It was exciting. It definitely had a playoff feel!”
Beloit started lefty Jason Wheeler. During the regular season, he was 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA. After the Snappers went scoreless in the top of the first, Clinton scored two runs in the bottom of the inning on a Ramon Morla two-run double. (Some Twins fans may remember that he and Oswaldo Arcia battled at the top of most offensive categories in the Appalachian League two years ago.)
The Snappers clawed back. In the top of the second, after singles by Kennys Vargas and Drew Leachman, Stephen Wickens bunted them to 2nd and 3rd. Matt Koch flew out but it was deep enough to score Vargas on a very close play at the plate to cut the deficit to 2-1.
In the top of the third, Wang-Wei Lin doubled off the wall. He advanced to third on a ground out. With two outs, Miguel Sano grounded up the middle. The shortstop made the play, but Sano beat the throw to first and tied the game at 2-2.
Unfortunately, the LumberJacks reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the 4th inning with two runs. The Snappers answered back quick with a run in the top of the 5th inning to cut the lead to 4-3, but it could have been more. Eddie Rosario doubled in Nate Roberts. Miguel Sano came up and hit a fly ball to deep centerfield. Rosario tagged up and slid safely into third base. However, Clinton appealed at second base, saying Rosario left too early. The umpire agreed and called Rosario out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 5th, Ramon Morla hit a long home run to again increase the lead to two at 5-3. Wheeler’s night ended. He gave up five runs (4 earned) on ten hits. He walked two and struck out four. DJ Baxendale came in and got the final out of the inning on a strikeouts. He would work two innings and gave up one hit and one walk but no runs. He struckout four.
In the top of the 7th, the Snappers were still down 5-3. AJ Pettersen walked to lead off the inning, and Nate Roberts followed with another base on balls. Wang-Wei Lin bunted the runners to second and third with just one out. Eddie Rosario came up again, and he came through again! He hit a line drive to left field. Pettersen scored, and when the left fielder bobbled the ball, Roberts scored as well. Rosario was out trying to advance to second base, but he had tied the game 5-5.
With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Tyler Duffey replaced DJ Baxendale. Duffey was making his Snappers debut less than 48 hours after he helped the Elizabethton Twins to an Appy League championship. Now he was pitching in a tied, Game 1 of the Midwest League playoffs. Since August 1st, Duffey had pitched 18 shutout innings in ten games. He had given up just seven hits, walked none and struckout 31. He got the final out of the 7th inning.
The top of the 8th inning started with a double by Kennys Vargas. Speedy JD Williams replaced him at second base. Drew Leachman, who was already 3-3 in the game, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that sat right on the foul line to advance Williams to third.
Leachman had no concerns about being asked to bunt. “(Throughout the season), I usually just do it on my own. I think I have five bunts on the year and four have been hits. It’s kind of my secret tool.” (So, Snappers fans, don’t tell anyone from the Midwest League.)
Stephen WIckens came up and with the infield playing in he hit a single through the middle to give the Snappers their first lead of the game at 6-5.
Duffey came out for the 8th inning. He struckout the first batter of the inning. However, Dillon Hazlett came up and hit his second home run of the game to tie the score again, this time at six.
AJ Pettersen led off the top of the 9th inning with a single to left. Nate Roberts bunted him to second base. Wang-Wei Lin grounded to shortstop, but the ball was booted. With runners now on 1st and 3rd, a wild pitch scored Pettersen to give the Snappers a 7-6 lead and move Wang-Wei Lin to second base. One pitch later, Lin advanced to third on another wild pitch. Eddie Rosario grounded to second, and even with the infield in, he had no play at the plate so he got the out at first. The Snappers now had an 8-6 lead.
For the bottom of the 9th, the Snappers went with lefty Mason Melotakis. He gave up a run to lead off the inning, but it was followed by a ground ball to shortstop and a grounder back to the mound for two outs. The final batter gave a scare, hitting a fly ball that Nate Roberts caught on the warning track, but the Snappers held on to that 8-6 win.
Drew Leachman, who was 3-3 with the sacrifice bunt in the game, said, “What a game!! Unbelievable! It just feels good to be able to put the team in a position to win!”
In his last two at bats, AJ Pettersen walked and singled. Each time he scored an important run. What were his thoughts going into those plate appearances? “I was trying to make their bullpen guys work for it. I always know that if I can get on, the guys behind me will move me around and it worked out late tonight!”
Pettersen continued, “That was quite the game! It was definitely intense!”
Eddie Rosario led the offense. He went 3-5 with a double and three RBI. Kennys Vargas was 2-4 with a double.
Tyler Duffey gave up a run for the first time in six weeks, but he was credited with the Win in this game. What was it like pitching in Game 1 two days after helping Elizabethton to their championship? “(It was) a little nerve-wracking at first, but more exciting than anything, just to be out there. I’m excited to be here and to have the opportunity to play for another championship.”
Game 1 was full of ups and downs, and it was very intense. Between the Elizabethton Twins’ run to an Appy League Championship (Which was won with three extra innings games) and now the Beloit Snappers playoff run, I may end up with an ulcer.
The Snappers boarded their bus after Game 1 in Clinton and will make the 100 mile trip back to Beloit where Game 2 will be played at 6:30 tonight. Right-hander Cole Johnson will take the mound for the Snappers against right-hander Jordan Pries. Johnson was the Twins 44th round pick just a year ago out of Notre Dame. After starting this season at Extended Spring Training, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 16 games. In 42 innings, he has walked just 11 and struck out 48. Pries was the Mariners’ 30th round pick in 2011 out of Stanford. In seven starts for the LumberJacks, he is 4-0 with a 3.49 ERA. In 38.2 innings, he has walked seven and struck out 33.
Should there need to be a Game 3, it will be at 6:30 on Friday night in Beloit. The Snappers would send lefty David Hurlbut to the mound.
If you’re in or near Beloit and have a chance, I definitely recommend trying to get to Game 2 and to follow the Snappers playoff run. Be sure to check out the Snappers website or call their box office at (608) 362-2272.
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