Ogden Raptors' third try at Pioneer League title not the charm

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

This undated photo courtesy of the Ogden Raptors shows the Raptors at Lindquist Field with the Wasatch Mountain Range in the background in Ogden, Utah. The league started in 1939. The current eight teams in the Minor Leagues are broken into two divisions. The four Montana teams, the Missoula Osprey, Helena Brewers, Great Falls Voyagers and Billings Mustangs, make up the North Division. The South Division stretches from Idaho, with the Idaho Falls Chukars, to Wyoming, with the Casper Ghosts, and down to Utah, with the Orem Owlz and Ogden Raptors.

Ogden Raptors, Associated Press

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OGDEN — Baseball fans in this Northern Utah city have been waiting nearly half a century for their beloved minor league franchise to bring home another Pioneer League championship.

Well, they'll have to wait awhile longer — at least one more year.

The Missoula Osprey spoiled Ogden's championship plans, scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a convincing 10-0 victory over the Raptors in the two teams' decisive title showdown Friday night at Lindquist Field.

"You can't win when you don't show up to play for the championship game," said Ogden manager Damon Berryhill, who saw his team fall in the league playoff finals for the third straight season. "It was 5-nothing before we could blink or get anybody loose in the (bull)pen.

"Offensively, we didn't adjust through the ballgame. They pretty much turned the tables on us with what we did last night (a 13-7 Ogden win that squared the series at 1-1 and set the stage for Friday's winner-take-all finale).

"... We fell behind and they jumped fastballs and you've got to give their hitters credit," he said. "We had opportunities and couldn't come up with the big hit. We had two or three innings where we were down by five and still could've made that a game. We just didn't get it done tonight."

Ogden last claimed the Pioneer League crown in 1969 — 43 years ago — when it won the last of a league-record four straight titles. The Los Angeles Dodgers' legendary Hall of Fame manager, Tommy Lasorda, was Ogden's skipper for the first three (1966-68) of those championships.

And after sweeping both regular-season halves in the Southern Division and eliminating Grand Junction (Colo.) in the opening round of this year's playoffs, the Raptors were hoping that 2012 might finally be their year to end that agonizingly long league championship drought.

Instead, they lost in the title series for the third straight season and for the fourth time since the Ogden franchise was resurrected in 1994 following a 20-year hiatus.

"The kids, they battled all year and they all improved a bunch from the start of the season," Berryhill said. "Coming out of extended (spring training) and looking at this crew, I thought we were gonna have a tough go. And right off the get-go, these guys swung the bats well.

Missoula, which won the league championship series 2-1 for its first title since 1996, took much of the suspense out of this one with a five-run outburst in the first frame off Ogden starter Ross Stripling, who came into Friday's do-or-die duel sporting a sparkling 1.24 earned run average but lasted only 3 2/3 innings. He gave up seven runs in all, six of them earned, on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

The Osprey chased him in the fourth inning when Jake Lamb jacked a two-out, two-run homer over the right-field fence to make it 7-0. Yosbel Gutierrez smacked a towering two-run shot to center field in the fifth for a 9-0 lead, and it was all over but the shouting. Lamb added an RBI single in the eighth that pushed the Osprey lead to its final 10-0 margin.

But for all intents and purposes, the outcome was decided in the first inning, when Missoula struck for its first five runs before the Raptors could record an out.

Pedro Ruiz drew a leadoff walk; Danny Pulfer singled, and when Ogden shortstop Corey Seager booted a ground ball to allow the first run to score, Stripling and the Raptors were in instant trouble.

Michael Perez followed with a single that loaded the bases, and Socrates Brito slapped a two-run single to left to make it 3-0. Then Breland Almadove drilled a two-run double off the center-field wall and, six batters into the game, the Osprey already held what proved to be an insurmountable 5-0 lead.

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