If the Wilson Tobs are going to capture their first Petit Cup Championship in club history, they’re going to have to do it the hard way. Some missed opportunities at the plate, in the field and on the mound sunk Wilson in an 8-3 loss to the Savannah Bananas in game one of the Petit Cup Championship series at Fleming Stadium Thursday night.
Despite 10 hits and keeping within, at most, two runs, until the ninth inning, the Tobs could not get the big hit with runners on base, as they stranded six. A fourth-inning defensive miscue by left fielder Trey Paige, which gave the Bananas two runs, stood up as the difference until a three-run ninth for Savannah.
“We left a lot of guys on, and we gave them a lot of free base runners,” said Tobs head coach Harry Markotay. “That’s dangerous with them. I’m pretty sure they led the league in stolen bases.”
The Bananas, the Coastal Plain League West Division champion, took a 1-0 lead in the series and moved one win away from capturing the title with an opportunistic night, taking advantage of the Paige miscue and nine walks from Tobs pitchers, while coming up with some strong defensive plays themselves. The Bananas were also aggressive on the base paths, swiping nine bags on the night.
“I think the guys were set on let’s come down here and let’s get after it,” said Savannah head coach Tyler Gillum. “That’s who we are. We grind guys out, we get on base and we steal. That’s who we are; we play the game aggressively. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we’re always going to play aggressive, not passive.”
Thursday’s game marked the Tobs’ first appearance in the CPL championship series since 2001, and 2,050 fans turned out to see the final home game, and Thirsty Thursday, of Wilsons’ 2022 season.
“It was a great crowd, probably the best all season,” said Tobs first baseman Matt Schark.
Alex Bouchard got the start on the mound for the Tobs, allowing four runs on four hits while striking out three and walking six in 4 ⅓ innings. Zach Smith recorded the win with two one-run innings for Savannah, allowing four hits.
Indiana Stanley led the way offensively for the Bananas, finishing the night 4 for 5 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs. Armando Becerra also had a pair of hits, including the game-winning, two-run double in the fourth inning.
Schark and Sammy Sass had a pair of hits apiece for the Tobs.
“I think they had a couple key hits in key scenarios,” Schark said. “They had runners in scoring position and a couple of the dudes got big base knocks. We just didn’t do that today.”
The Bananas took a two-run lead in the top of the fourth on a defensive miscue. After Justus drew a one-out walk and Bouchard plunked Brody Wortham to put two on with two outs, Becerra skied a ball into left field that Paige lost in the lights.
The ball landed well behind Paige near the wall, and both runners came home to make it a 4-2 Savannah advantage.
Wilson mounted a two-out rally of its own in the bottom of the fourth inning. Schark led off with a base knock, Blake Evans moved him into scoring position and Efry Cervantes drove him home to make it a one-run game.
Paige’s tough luck continued to keep the Tobs from at least tying the game, as he hit one hard off the middle, but it bounced off Bananas pitcher Ryan Kennedy for an easy play at second.
“That’s a good baseball club, and usually the team that wins is the one that can force the most mistakes,” Markotay said. “The one on Trey Paige was a tough sky at the time, he lost it. He played center field for us, so he’s pretty much a center fielder out there in a corner spot. If he sees that ball all the way, no doubt he catches it. We didn’t have things fall our way. They definitely had luck on their side. A ground ball up the middle from Trey Paige that made contact with the pitcher probably saved a run or two from them, which would have put us ahead.”
The Bananas jumped in front in the top of the second inning on a two-run single from Taylor Justus.
The Tobs answered right back in the bottom of that inning, as Jacob McCaskey lined a leadoff double into right field before Scott Mackiewicz brought him home with a single up the middle to cut the deficit in half.
With two runners in scoring position with one out, Jake Lysaught roped a ball into center field. Becerra made a slick catch for the out, but it was deep enough to score Mackiewicz and tie the game.
The Bananas’ outfielders made several sharp catches on hard-hit balls by the Tobs throughout the night, a key to preserving their lead until the ninth.
“Some balls can leave this yard,” Gillum said. “…I think we’re fielding like .978 this summer. So our outfield can really run. We made some good players on the infield and our pitchers threw strikes.”
After Savannah tacked on a run in the top of the seventh, the Tobs could not muster a base runner over the game’s final three innings as Bananas reliever Jestin Jones was stellar, throwing three perfect innings and striking out six as he snuffed out any chance of a Wilson rally until the Bananas pulled away in the ninth.
“I just had everything working,” Jones said. “I was just attacking hitters and working ahead. Everything just seemed to work, and I was a little bit more amped because it’s a playoff game. I was excited to be out there, and it felt good.
The Bananas tacked on three runs in the top of the ninth on an RBI single from Stanley, RBI fielder’s choice from Dylan Kurahashi-Choy Foo and a passed ball.
The Tobs and Bananas will play game two of the series at Grayson Stadium Friday night, with a 7 p.m. first pitch. A victory would give Savannah the championship, while Wilson must win to force a winner-take-all game three in Savannah on Saturday.
The Tobs know they have their backs against the wall, but they need only go back a few days for evidence of what they’re capable of, as they won the final two games against the Morehead City Marlins, including game three on the road, to get here.
“It’s going to be just like it has been for us all year, especially in the postseason,” Markotay said. “We’re going to play it one pitch at a time, not focus on outcomes but focus on our approach at the plate, at the mound and defensively. We’re going to stay focused, play with a ton of energy and get after it.”
Score by innings:
Savannah 020 200 103 — 8
Wilson 020 100 000 — 3
WP-Zach Smith (1-0) 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB 0 K. LP-Alex Bouchard (1-1) 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 3 K.
LEADING HITTERS — Savannah: Indiana Stanley 4-5, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI; Armando Becerra 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Taylor Justus 1-2, R, 2 RBI. Wilson: Sammy Sass 2-4; Jacob McCaskey 1-4, 2B, R; Matt Schark 2-4, R.