Po-Hao “Bernie” Huang’s monster shot to centre field brought in Andrew Schaps with the winning run for the Victoria HarbourCats in a thrilling 5-4 come-from-behind win over Corvallis in game 1 of the West Coast League championship final at Royal Athletic Park.
The victory saw the locals keep coming back, erasing three Corvallis leads including a 4-3 deficit after the Knights scored one in the top of the eighth inning.
Huang, through an interpreter, said he appreciated the support from his teammates, who doused him with Gatorade after the game. He was excited to hit his first walk-off, game-winning hit and to hear the roar of the crowd.
Corvallis brought in right fielder Jordan Qsar to pitch in the ninth after Justin Orton led off with a walk and Schaps singled to right field. Victoria greeted Qsar with a sacrifice fly from Tucker Johnson that brought in Orton to tie the game. That set the stage for Huang’s blast, which sailed over Emilio Alcantar’s head and allowed Schaps, who had reached second on a wild pitch, to scamper home.
With Victoria’s home schedule wrapped up for the season, the teams head to Oregon for game 2 on Monday night and game 3, if necessary, in Corvallis on Tuesday.
Victoria manager Brian McRae sounded relieved to get the all-important win in game 1 of the best-of-three series.
“The way we won it is important, because we came back. Offensively, we were stymied. They pitched us well and we’re used to getting a lot of hits and scoring runs and we weren’t able to do that,” he said. “We hung in there and pieced some things together and our bullpen was able to hold them down a little bit.
Defending WCL playoff champion Corvallis will be tough in their own park, McRae admitted. “I don’t want to go to a game 3. I want to try to get it done [Monday], because if we have to go to a game 3, anything can happen.”
And there was no underestimating the power of a record-setting home crowd, announced as the largest in WCL playoff history at 2,789.
“The energy that was here was amazing, it was a lot of fun and I’m glad we were able to send them home happy,” McRae said. “This is an awesome way to end the home portion of our season.”
Starting HarbourCats pitcher Adam McKillican was tagged for a solo home run by Elliott Willy in the second, then settled in and gave his team some solid innings, nearly finishing the seventh. He left the game at 3-3 and earned a no decision.
Local product, lefty Mike Musselwhite got the final out of the seventh, then Taylor Prokopis threw the final two innings, allowing two hits and a run.
McKillican said he would have liked to finish the seventh, but still felt good about his performance. He had fun seeing the final two innings play out.
“I just think the noise and the fact this crowd rattled their pitchers a little bit, they started hanging pitches leaving balls out over the plate and our hitters are going to take advantage of that every time,” he said. “It was an excellent baseball game and a good way to end the season here at home.”
As for the upcoming game 2 and possibly 3 in Corvallis, he said, “we’re hoping to go disappoint their fans and win a ring in their park.”
Corvallis used five pitchers on the night, with starter Jordan Horak giving up a single run. He was pulled in the fourth after loading the bases, but reliever Jacob Fricke got Orton to hit into a fielder’s choice for the third out.
D.J. Porter went 3-for-4 for Victoria with two runs scored, while Shane McGuire went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Dillan Shrum and Matt Kelly had two hits each for the Knights.