Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twelfth inning magic: Grizzlies walk-off with win over Foxes in Game One of MCBL championship

All season long, Grizzlies’ head coach Aaron Holley has been telling his team to battle.

Thursday night in Cheyenne, in Game One of the MCBL championship against the Fort Collins Foxes, Grizzlies’ center fielder Kyle Dodge took Holley’s message to heart with a 12th-inning, walk-off single to give Cheyenne the upper hand in the best-of-three series.

“I got two strikes and knew, in the bottom of the 12th with two outs and the winning run in scoring position I had to put it in play,” Dodge said. “I watched one go by right down the middle, and then I fouled the second one off. I had a feeling that I was gonna make pretty solid contact with the next fastball he threw me.”

With two strikes and two outs in the 12th inning, Dodge battled, lining a single up the middle, allowing third baseman Ryan Javech to score the winning run from second.

Grizzlies 5, Foxes 4.

“Kyle Dodge put a good swing on a good pitch,” Holley said. “The pitcher left it up and Kyle made him pay for it. He was just battling with two strikes. “

Battle: success. Ship: sunk.

Sweet, sweet victory.

It was Cheyenne’s first walk-off win of the season, and just its second win after trailing entering the seventh inning.

“It’s an easy walk to first base when you get a hit like that,” Dodge said. “You’re just watching the play and hoping they score.”

Javech, who reached on a one-out walk and advanced to second on a Rory Kolo groundout, had no trouble beating the throw of Foxes’ center fielder Cody Bishop.

As the game progressed, the sounds of the nearby concert at the Cheyenne Frontier Days could be heard at the park. But as Dodge’s bat connected with the 1-2 pitch from Travis Wilcox, the live music was diffused as the Grizzlies celebrated to the tune of Tunak Tunak Tun, an Indian tribal dance song that has turned into the ballclub’s rally and theme song after teammates heard it at a dance club.

Boston plays Tessie after each Red Sox win; The Grizzlies now play Tunak Tunak Tun.

As the music blared, the excitement in the city went from Dierks Bentley’s guitar a half-mile north to the right-field grass of Pioneer Park, where teammates chased down and dog piled Dodge, letting out three week’s worth of bottled up frustration.
“It’s so huge,” said K.C. Judge, who paced Cheyenne with four hits and two RBI. “We just played a 12-inning game. We wore them out a little bit. We got to their bullpen. To win in 12, that takes the wind out of their sails. I like our chances on Saturday.”

“It’s colossal,” second baseman Mike Wido added. “It’s nice to send Fort Collins home after 12 innings. Hopefully we can win it at their place now and dog pile at their stadium.”

With the win, the momentum is now on the side of Cheyenne, while Fort Collins’ backs are up against the wall.

Fort Collins came in as the clear favorites, but it’s do or die time for the Foxes, while the Grizzlies need to win just one of two games in Fort Collins to claim their first ever MCBL championship.

“When you win close games like that against good teams, it gives you confidence,” Holley said. “We have the momentum, even with them being at home.”

The fact that the Grizzlies have a better road record than at home, and have played particularly well (3-3) in Fort Collins, means they are heading into the rest of the series in the driver’s seat.

“All the pressure’s on them,” closer Jack Winters said. “They have to win. We can go out loose. After an extra-inning loss like this, they have to be deflated. I know we would be. But we’re that much higher off the win right now going into Saturday.”

It was just a matter of time before the Grizzlies pushed another run across.

Cheyenne had at least one runner in scoring position in 10 of the 12 innings, including each of the extra innings, but was unable to score until the last one.

Four hours prior to the joyful celebration, opening-day starter Josh Boyer took the mound and pitched six solid innings. While he worked himself into trouble—Fort Collins had at least one runner in scoring position in four of his six innings—Boyer buckled down under pressure. He finished with eight strikeouts, allowing just one earned run on seven hits and two walks.

The Grizzlies jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Wido reached on a fielder’s choice and came around to score on Judge’s double to right-center. The Grizzlies are now 18-3 on the season when scoring first.

“I felt like with whatever swing I took I was going to square the ball somewhere,” Judge said. “I was really confident and comfortable with everything.”

The Foxes answered back, though, with three runs in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead. Just one of the runs was earned, however, as miscommunication in the outfield led to two unearned runs. First baseman Edder Morales hit what seemed to be an easy flyout to right fielder Andy Athans. However, Dodge came sprinting over, colliding with Athans and allowing Morales to reach.

The Grizzlies got one run back in the fifth when Jose Jauregui led off with a single to the left side. He was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Wido, stole third and came home on Judge’s one-out single up the middle.

Ryan Schwenn relieved Boyer with two near-perfect innings, allowing a single, while striking out one and receiving help in the seventh with a nice double play by Wido.

“I was just trying to keep it close any way possible,” Schwenn said. “I was able to throw strikes and get outs and got a huge double play from Wido after the leadoff single.”

Schwenn threw 16 of 19 pitches for strikes, including first-pitch strikes to all six hitters he faced.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Grizzlies took advantage of two defensive errors by the Foxes to add two runs and take a 4-3 lead.

With one out, Wido beat out a slow roller to get the rally started. Judge grounded to shortstop, but Allen’s throw was high, sailing out of play and allowing both runners to advance. With runners on second and third and one out, the Foxes intentionally walked catcher Jefre Johnson to load the bases. But a groundball by Mike Domenick, that possibly could have been turned into a double play, went under second baseman Charles Bradley’s glove and into right field, bringing home both runs. Bradley had been named Fort Collins’ defensive player of the year earlier in the week.

Just three outs away from a victory, the Grizzlies brought in Winters, trying to earn his seventh save of the season.

Winters got into trouble right away, however, allowing a leadoff double down the right-field line to left fielder Brenton Kopecek. Consecutive singles allowed Kopecek to score and knot the score up at 4-4. Winters would retire the next three batters, though, including two punch outs.

“When I came out in the ninth, I felt like I was flat for some reason,” Winters said. “After those three hits in a row, I bore down and focused on what I needed to do, which was to throw to the glove, rather than by the hitter. It started to work out from there. There was no way I was going to let the loss fall on my shoulders. I did everything to keep it tight.”

He pitched three additional innings, not allowing a single hit and recording the win.

Thursday closed out the 2010 home slate for the Grizzlies, and was just the third ever playoff game played in Cheyenne.

Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) of the series will be played in Fort Collins at the Fox Den. Game 2 is set for Saturday at 6:15 p.m. If Cheyenne needs a third game, it will be at 6:15 on Sunday night.

“We fully expect to go out and win next game,” Holley said. “I told the team, ‘We’re not done. Let’s go out and win it Saturday.’ We play well at their park. It should be a good game, probably just like this. It’ll come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.”

To see the video of Kyle Dodge's walk-off, click here.

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