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Stompers back in first place

Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune Sonoma Stomper catcher Daniel Comstock tags out a Vallejo baserunner in Saturday night's game. While the Stompers lost Saturday, they beat Vallejo 6-5 on Sunday to regain first place with nine games left on the schedule.

HAYLEY SLYE,

The Sonoma Stompers last regular season home game of the season Sunday began with a helicopter flyover and ended with the team ascending into sole possession of first place in the Pacific Association standings.

The Stompers ended their regular season home schedule in dramatic fashion with a 6-5 victory over the Vallejo Admirals. The two teams have been hovering around first place for most of the second half, swapping places twice last week.

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time and keep playing hard,” said manager Takashi Miyoshi. “Mistakes happen, but we just have to pick each other up. Tonight, we trusted each other. From day one, this team has been great.”

In the eighth with one out, Vallejo reliever Tim Holmes loaded the bases with Stompers. His replacement, Andin Diaz struck out two but yielded two runs on a pair of wild pitches to give Sonoma a two-run lead.

Facing the heart of the Admirals lineup, Jacob Cox came in to pitch the top of the ninth and gave up a home run to Tillman Pugh. It was Pugh’s second home run of the game and third in two days. A couple of batters later, a slick double play ended the game.

Sonoma starter Scott Plaza went four innings and allowed two earned runs, solo shots off the bats of Pugh and Shawn Payne. Pugh and Payne also hit a pair of home runs on Saturday.

“I respect Vallejo. Their players are playing really great baseball,” Miyoshi said. “Compared to the first half, they just upgraded the team. We just really have to keep up.”

Early in the game, the Stompers took advantage of Admirals errors with timely singles, but four runs wouldn’t hold up. In the seventh, the Admirals scored on an error and walked in a run to tie the game.

Brennan Metzger dazzled on Sunday, taking a three-run home run from Chris Fornaci with a leaping catch in left. Daniel Baptista and Derrick Fox both went two-for-three on the night.

Saturday, the Stompers fell back into a first-place tie with a 6-2 loss to the Admirals.

Stompers starter Juan Espinosa struck out six in six innings, allowing four earned runs. In relief, Stacy Piagno contributed two innings of scoreless ball, extending a nine-inning scoreless streak to 11.

“Between knowing the hitters and just being confident in myself, both physically and mentally, I think that’s what has made me successful,” Piagno said. “Now that I’m able to continue getting innings I’m just getting more confident and more confident.”

“She knows herself. She knows what she wants to do with hitters and she attacks them where they’re weak,” said center fielder Matt Hibbert. “She knows her approach and she sticks with it and that’s why she’s successful.”

Demetrius Banks, the Admirals’ crafty left-hander, pitched seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball and picked up the win. His lone earned run came off the bat of Hibbert, and went over the outfield fence. Hibbert notched the only multi-hit night for the Stompers.

Most of the game’s offense came by way of the long ball, as both Pugh and Payne hit dingers for the Admirals. Pugh and Payne were responsible for four of the Admirals’ six runs on the night.

On defense, Stompers right fielder Matt LoCoco made two excellent catches in right, firing up the crowd as well as his teammates.

“We know it’s going to be a grind down the stretch. Vallejo is a really good team right now and we’re right there with them,” Hibbert said. “We just have to treat every game like a one-game playoff.”

Friday, the Stompers defeated the Admirals, 3-2, on a walk-off hit-by-pitch to retake the top spot in the Pacific Association standings.

“We understand that we took the first half, but we want the second half. Vallejo is the only thing standing in our way at this point,” said catcher Isaac Wenrich. “To see how much closer we came as a team tonight really shows why we can pull something like this off”

While Vallejo starter Mahlik Jones worked five strong innings, Taylor Thurber struck out eight through six, walking just two and allowing one earned run.

In the seventh with one out and runners on second and third, Cox entered the game and recorded two quick groundouts.

His performance in the frame proved a turning point as Cox shut down the Admirals’ rally and paved the way for Sonoma to take the lead on an error in bottom of the inning.

The ninth, the Stompers drew three walks before closer Sammy Gervacio hit Yuki Yasuda with a pitch, securing the Stompers win.

Sunday’s win gives the Stompers an 18-12 second-half record – a game better than the second-place Admirals.

The Stompers have just nine road games left to secure the second-half title and become the outright 2017 Pacific Association champions. The team returns to action Tuesday with a three-game series against the San Rafael Pacifics at Albert Park at 7:05 p.m.

Sonoma travels to Vallejo Friday, Saturday and Sunday before finishing out the season with a three-game series at Pittsburg.