Heading into the bottom of the 9th inning Sunday, the situation was exactly the same as on the previous day: the West Michigan Whitecaps led the Cedar Rapids Kernels 2-1.
The results, however, would not be the same.
The Kernels won Game 3 by rallying for a pair of runs in the bottom of the 9th. Despite having two runners on with one out, and then the bases loaded with two outs, the Kernels fell short in Game 4. The Whitecaps held on for a 2-1 win, forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 Monday in Cedar Rapids.
In an interesting twist of fate, Kernels catcher Brian Navarreto was the final batter in both games. He legged out an infield hit to drive in the winning run in Game 3, and struck out swinging to end Game 4.
Mike Gerber led the Whitecaps offense with three hits and the game-winning RBI. West Michigan’s Christin Stewart and Joey Pankake each had two hits, as did Cedar Rapids’ Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade.
Whitecaps starting pitcher Jeff Thompson got the win after giving up only one run on six hits and a walk in five innings. He struck out three and hit a batter.
Game 5 begins at 6:35 p.m. CT. The starting pitchers have not been announced.
This is the first time a Midwest League Championship Series has lasted the maximum five games since 2010, when the Lake County Captains defeated the Clinton LumberKings. That was Lake County’s first year in the Midwest League, and they are the last Eastern Division team to win the championship.
The Whitecaps hope to change that by winning their first Midwest League title since 2007. But they will have to do it on the road against the Kernels, who want to win their first MWL crown since 1994.
*Photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler