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River Cats rally falls short, season over

The Sacramento River Cats fell to the Omaha Storm Chasers 11-6 Friday night at Raley Field, completing Omaha’s sweep for the Pacific Coast League Championship and ending the River Cats season. It in Omaha’s first PCL Championship in franchise history.

After dropping the first two games in Omaha, the River Cats hoped to overcome the deficit just as they did against the Reno Aces in the Pacific Conference Championship Series.

The River Cats sent out right-hander Travis Banwart to the mound. Last series, against the Reno Aces, Banwart also pitched in an elimination game and pitched 6.0 innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits with three strike outs and one walk.

Banwart looked to be continuing where he left off last series, tossing a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout in the first.

The Cats looked to get on the board against Omaha Storm Chaser’s starting pitcher Mike Montgomery. Montgomery only lasted 3.0 innings and gave up five earned runs on six hits and four walks in his only postseason outing before Friday night. But Friday’s night proved to be different, as he continued Omaha’s dominance in the postseason on the mound.

The Storm Chaser’s pitching staff only allowed 38 hits in 57.0 innings before Friday’s game, good enough for a .186 opponents batting average.

Sacramento had a chance to get to Montgomery early with runners on first and second with two outs and left fielder Adrian Cardenas up to bat. But Cardenas, who is batting .250 for the playoffs, struck out to end the threat.

The Storm Chasers came right back with a 2-out rally of their own. Shortstop Irving Falu started the rally with a single to left field, before being hit home by a hard-hit double by catcher Manny Pina. Second baseman Lance Zawadzki hit a double of his own to get Pina home and take a 2-0 lead before third baseman Kurt Mertins lined out to end the inning.

Banwart encountered another Omaha rally in the top of the third inning, when he gave up an infield single, hit a batter, and walked a batter to load the bases with one out.

But this time the River Cats were able to escape without any more damage. Banwart struck out Omaha first baseman Kila Ka’aihue, and got Falu to fly out to center field to end the threat.

But Omaha got to Banwart and the River Cats again in the fifth inning. Omaha’s fifth-inning rally begin with Sacramento right fielder Grant Green dropping a fly ball that allowed Omaha’s David Lough to get to third base with one out.

After getting Lorenzo Cain to ground out, keeping Lough on third, Banwart intentionally walked designated hitter Clint Robinson to get to Ka’aihue with two outs. But Sacramento manger Darren Bush’s strategy failed.

Ka’aihue singled to score Lough and Falu hit a bloop single to score Robinson, forcing Bush to turn to his bullpen with the score 4-0.

Sacramento’s Trey Barham came in to pitch and walked the first batter he faced to load the bases with two outs. Zawadzki then hit a single that slipped through the left side of the infield defense to score two more runs and increase Omaha’s lead to 6-0 in the fifth. Mertins, the ninth batter for Omaha in the fifth, struck out to end the inning.

Omaha wasn’t done there. Lough hit his first home run of the postseason, a 2-run home run to deep right-center field on a 2-2 pitch, to bring Omaha’s lead to 8-0.

Sacramento’s offense finally came alive with a rally the bottom of the sixth inning when Omaha pulled Montgomery to give the mound to its relievers. Montgomery exited the game after 5.0 innings pitched, allowing no runs on three hits and three walks while striking out six.

With runners on first and third in the sixth inning, designated hitter Andy LaRoche got his first hit of the postseason: a double down the left-field line that scored third baseman Josh Donaldson from third.

Shortstop Tyler Ladendorf then scored LaRoche and Green after catcher Joel Galarraga struck out looking, bringing the score to 8-3 going into the seventh inning.

There, Omaha would come right back and extend their lead again by scoring two more runs. The first came when Mertins dropped a sacrifice bunt that Sacramento pitcher Bruce Billings trapped, and threw the ball over second baseman’s head allowing Zawadski to advance to third and Pina to score from second. Pina eventually scored on a Dyson single to bring the score to 10-3.

The River Cats once again showed their resilience in the bottom of the seventh inning, tacking on another two runs to bring the deficit back to five.

Sacramento’s first baseman Chris Carter hit a solo home run to deep left field in the ninth inning, but in the end, the River Cats had fallen behind too far as they eventually fell to the Storm Chasers 11-6, thus ending their season.

Carter’s home run in the ninth extended his streak with an RBI in each of Sacramento’s playoff games this postseason. It also gave him his ninth home run in 17 playoff games played for the River Cats.

Sacramento will have to wait until April for another chance to earn their eighth PCL Championship.  

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