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.
Ogden tried to get back in it — after all, in the hitting-happy Pioneer League, there's usually no such thing as a safe lead. But the Raptors stranded two base runners in the bottom of the first and left the bags full in the second and, after that, Ogden's scoring threats were few and far between.
Missoula starter Yoimer Camacho (5-4) earned the title-clinching victory, scattering three Ogden singles over five shutout innings. He struck out four and walked two batters in a stellar performance worthy of a championship game. Chase Stevens and Vince Striker finished up for the Osprey, allowing two scratch singles between them over the final four innings.
"We swung at some pitches we should've hit and we over-swung on 'em and we chased balls that weren't strikes," Berryhill said. "We didn't make (Camacho) pound the strike zone and it ended up costing us. We didn't swing the bats.
"It's tough when you give up five in the first and you come out a little flat offensively. The kids, they didn't give up. But it was just one of those nights when we didn't get it done. Five runs for us in this league hasn't really been a problem. We're capable of putting up big numbers ourselves. But we came out flat and we swung through a lot of balls we would've hit last night, and we didn't get it done — that's the bottom line. We didn't play very well and basically got our (expletive) kicked.
"This is a situation, hey, it's a bitter pill," the Raptors' manager said.
"This is what you play for. You get to the big leagues and you're fortunate to get to championship time and World Series time and I've been there, I've lost the World Series, and it sticks with you your whole life. There's no question about it. But it's what the game is all about — getting there and getting an opportunity and trying to come out on top, and we came up a little short. They've got nothing to hang their heads about, but you've just got to learn from it and get better."
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