OREM Darwin Perez couldn't have asked for a better birthday present than the game-winning hit to clinch the first-half title in the South Division.
With runners on first and second and two out in the bottom of the seventh against the Idaho Falls Chukars, Perez lifted a 2-1 pitch high in the air to left. Chukars left fielder Shawn Griffin, who was playing extremely shallow, found himself going all the way back to the warning track as heavy winds blowing out to center field kept the ball carrying. Griffin couldn't get back fast enough and the ball bounced harmlessly on the warning track, scoring both runners and giving the Owlz a 4-3 victory and a sweep of the doubleheader.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Perez said through an interpreter after the game. "When I made contact, I thought it was an easy out."
Perez was mobbed at second base immediately after the game-winning run crossed home.
Casper (23-15) lost 13-6 at Ogden Sunday, meaning the Owlz (25-13) only needed to split the doubleheader. But Owlz manager Tom Kotchman wanted to clinch the right way by winning both.
"We won the games when we had to," Kotchman said. "We won ours. That's the way you want to do it. We did it the right way. It doesn't matter what (Casper) did."
Donato Giovanatto led off the bottom of the seventh Sunday with a double to left-center field off Chukars reliever James Thompson. Thompson came right back though, striking out Ivan Contreras and getting Ryan Groth to fly out to center.
Beau Brooks, who entered the game hitting just .186, managed to draw a four-pitch walk, giving Perez an opportunity to win the game.
As first-half champs, the Owlz will be guaranteed a spot in the Pioneer League playoffs in September, regardless of how they perform in the second half.
"They regrouped after the Casper series," Kotchman said. "and after Casper lost both games (Saturday), I think that gave us a little adrenaline."
In the first game of the doubleheader a continuation from Saturday night's contest which was suspended the Owlz sent Jayson Miller to the hill. Miller, who had allowed just four earned runs in 38 1/3 innings, dazzled again Sunday. He threw five innings, allowed no runs, gave up just three hits and struck out four to pick up the win.
"Miller really set the tone in that first game," Kotchman said.
The Owlz trailed the Chukars 4-3 in the top of the fifth when the game resumed Sunday. Roberto Lopez tied the game in the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run deep to left field. The Owlz scored two more in the sixth before adding an insurance run in the seventh en route to a 7-4 victory.
The Chukars got on the board first in the second game with two in the top of the second. The Owlz answered back with one in the bottom half and then tied the game in the third on an RBI single by Lopez.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, J.D. Alfaro scorched an RBI single down the left field line. Alfaro was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but it was still good enough to give the Chukars a 3-2 advantage.
The score remained 3-2 until the bottom of the seventh.
After the game, first baseman Gabe Jacobo and relief pitcher Francis Cabrera were both called up to the Los Angeles Angels' Class-A affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Owlz will replace Jacobo with Chris Garcia, who spent some time with the Owlz last season.
Jacobo described the feeling as bittersweet.
"This club was a fun club," Jacobo said. "I had a great time playing here. The fans were awesome. But I hear Cedar Rapids is a fun club also."