Corvallis had to wait until the evening on the final day of the regular season Sunday, but the Knights have their opponent for the first round of the West Coast League baseball playoffs.
Yakima Valley will host Corvallis to open their best-of-three South Division series on Tuesday in Yakima, Washington, with games two and (if necessary) game three played Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, at Goss Stadium. The Knights earned home-field advantage in the series after winning the South’s first half.
Corvallis’ probable starting pitchers for the series are Utah right-hander Cam Day (2-0, 0.48 ERA), Linn-Benton Community College righty Kaden Segel (4-1, 1.83) and San Jose State lefty Ethan Ross (2-1 , 2.94).
Portland and Ridgefield will meet in the South’s other divisional series.
Five-time defending league champion Corvallis (39-15) would be at home for the South championship and WCL championship, both decided with a single game, after finishing with the league’s best overall record.
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Yakima Valley (29-25) earned the South’s fourth and final playoff spot by edging Bend by one game in the season’s overall standings.
On Sunday, Yakima Valley won 5-1 at Kelowna and Cowlitz rallied from deficits of 5-0 and 7-1 to win 8-7 at Bend.
Bend would have advanced had it tied Yakima Valley. The Pippins swept Kelowna in three games and won its last four of the regular season while going 10-2 down the stretch.
This year’s playoff format is different than in seasons past, when just four total teams made the postseason. This year, with team expansion growing the WCL to 16 teams, there are eight in the playoffs.
Corvallis coach Brooke Knight, who has led the Knights since 2008, said he understands the new format from a business perspective but isn’t sure it’s the best way to determine the top team.
“I think there may be another way to do it,” Knight said last week, adding that he would have liked to have seen single games contested on the front end of the playoff schedule and then best-of-three for the league championship, as in the past. “Change isn’t always bad, and I guess it’s worth a try to see how things go.”
Corvallis swept a three-game series at Yakima Valley (7-0, 8-1, 8-0) in early June to open the regular season. The teams met again two weeks later at Goss Stadium, with the Knights taking all three there as well (6-3, 6-1, 3-1).
Yakima Valley was 3-11 at that point, but the Pippins have been a different team since.
The Pippins went 20-7 in the second half, just behind South foes Corvallis and Portland, both at 21-7. Yakima Valley was dead last in the eight-team South’s first half at 9-18 (to Bend’s 17-10) but made up a lot of ground in the second half.
Seattle University’s Jackson Reid batted .357, the WCL’s fifth-best average, to lead the Pippins in the regular season. He had three homers, two triples, seven doubles, 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.
Teammate Connor Coballes, from Gonzaga, batted .329 with seven doubles, 22 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
Yakima Valley College righty Spencer Shipman (0-1, 2.13), Washington righty Reilly McAdams (1-1, 2.29), Utah Valley righty Tyler Frieders (7-1, 3.09) and Gonzaga lefty Liam McCallum (1-2, 3.19) have been some of the Pippins’ top arms this summer.
Corvallis leads the league in triples (20) and sacrifice flies (31), is second in sacrifice hits (27) and stolen bases (130) and third in RBIs (297).
Knight’s teams have always been among the WCL’s most aggressive teams on the base paths. Knight sees base running and stealing bases as “a real opportunity in the sport.”
“Helping guys understand where the gaps might be and how to take advantage of those gaps, then giving them the freedom to make some of those decisions on their own can be really empowering for a young player,” the coach said.
Some players have what Knight calls “next-level speed” but haven’t learned how to use that speed as a weapon. The Corvallis coaches talk to their players about seeing those opportunities and allowing the players to make mistakes while exploring the possibilities of taking extra bases.
On the mound, the Knights lead the WCL in ERA (2.55), batting average against (.221) and walks plus hits per innings pitched, or WHIP (1.21) and are second in homers allowed (15).
Corvallis tied Victoria for first in fielding percentage in the regular season at .971; Yakima Valley was 14th at .954.
The Pippins are second in sacrifice flies (29) and third in stolen bases (110) offensively, and their pitchers allowed the fewest home runs (14), had the second-most walks given up (309) and are 10th in ERA (5.08 ) and batting average against (.255).
Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can connect with him on Twitter: @JesseSowaGT.