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Sonoma Stompers fall short in Game 3, lose title to San Rafael again, 5-3

After dominating the league standings for almost the entire season, and entering the playoffs with the best record and top seed for the second year in a row, the Sonoma Stompers found the championship elude them in the end. Once again they lost the title to the San Rafael Pacifics, who tamped down the Stompers attack with efficient pitching and fielding to win, 5-3 at Arnold Field on Sunday, Sept. 1.

San Rafael jumped out to an early lead in the second on slugger Zane Gelpham’s home run, but the Stompers came back in the bottom of the inning with a run of their own on Rob DeAngelis’s single and, three batters later, Rayson Romero’s single to score him.

The third inning was much the same: The Pacifics scored a single run when Yeiler Peguero, who had tripled, scored from third on Axel Johnson’s sacrifice fly.

But the Palooza Park crowd got something to cheer about in the bottom of the third, when Brent Gillespie singled and third baseman Chris Kwitzer lofted a ball over the right field fence for a 2-run homer, giving the home team a 3-2 lead.

In the fifth inning the Pacifics got the run back, and it was again Peguero who scored, this time on Mike Annone’s single. That was enough for manager Zack Pace to pull Lenny Gwizdala, who had come in to relieve starter Patrick Barnett in the fourth, and substitute Marshall Shill.

Shill shut down the Pacifics to end the inning and keep them scoreless in the sixth, but when Jacob Cox came in for the seventh inning, the magic went away. Corey Dempster doubled with one out, Annone walked, and Gelpham reached on an error by Kwitzer at third to load the bases. Then Ermindo Escobar singled, Dempster came in and the Pacifics took the lead, 4-3.

Out of the dugout came Saturday’s starter, Vijay Patel, to try and keep the Pacifics at bay. He was only partially successful: Jimmy Lunardelli flied out to score Annone, and Marks Montelongo struck out.

But the two-run seventh put the Pacifics ahead to stay, 5-3, and the San Rafael’s relievers Brock Knoten and Jalien Paguero kept the tepid Stompers from scoring and, for the most part, getting on base. The Sonoma team ended with only five hits but committed three crucial errors, and with the uneventful final innings the 2019 season slipped away.

The championship series followed the same pattern throughout as the visiting team upset the home team in each game – disappointing the home town fans who turned out to see their boys. The first game, on Friday, Aug. 30, saw the Pacifics win in a trouble-plagued outing at Arnold Field, where two umpires had to leave with injuries and the lights kept inexplicably going out.

The game was a trial for fans as well as players: it didn’t get underway until almost 6:30 p.m., and by the time the final out was logged at 11:24, almost five hours had elapsed and only the die-hard remained in the stands. Stomper errors and a seventh-inning home run from Gelphman gave San Rafael a lead they didn’t relinquish, as they won 8-5.

Saturday’s game was in San Rafael, and shortstop Rayson Romero, batting ninth in the Stompers lineup, played the hero with 3-run home run off Michael Klein in the sixth inning. San Rafael’s Peguero gave the singled in a pair in the bottom of the ninth, but the Stompers held on to win, 5-4.

Zack Pace, for the second year manager of the Stompers, once again saw his team go down in the playoffs to San Rafael after a strong season. this one ended with them five games up with a 45-19 record; last year’s team had an even higher win percentage, and set a league and franchise record with their 57-23 season.

“We had really good year,” said Pace at season’s end. He was especially pleased that the Stompers sent more players up to higher leagues than they had to release. “I’m pretty proud of that, that we’ve moved players on.”

But once again the title was won in the playoffs, and once again it was the San Rafael Pacifics – for the fourth time in the six-year-old league – that took the crown.

As Pace said then, “Baseball’s so weird. There’s no givens in a game, it just happens.”

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