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August 15, 2011
Starter Chase Johnson pitched seven scoreless innings to lead the Knights to a 3-0 victory over Bend in the deciding game of the WCL Divisional Series.
The Knights will open the best-of-three WCL Championship Series at Walla Walla on Tuesday night. The Sweets, the No. 2 seed in the East Division, shocked top-seeded and two-time WCL champion Wenatchee by sweeping their playoff series.
After a travel day, Game 2 is set for 6:40 p.m. Thursday at Goss Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, will be at 6:40 p.m. Friday.
The Knights have now advanced to the Championship Series in four of their five seasons in Corvallis. Their lone championship was in 2008. Johnson made sure they’ll have a chance to bookend that title with an outstanding effort.
A rising sophomore at Cal Poly, Johnson allowed just four hits and had six strikeouts, with just one walk. Bend did not advance a runner past second base; only once did the Elks have more than one baserunner in a single inning, and Chase picked the lead runner off second in that instance for a key out.
“I tried to treat it like every other game,” Johnson said. “I was juiced to get the start, and just tried my hardest.”
Johnson’s fastball consistently reached the low-to-mid 90s. He threw 62 strikes in 90 pitches in his longest outing of the summer. His previous best were two six-inning starts against Kelowna and Wenatchee.
“All my pitches were working,” he said. “My slider was probably my second-best pitch,” and perfectly complemented his fastball.
Sunday’s win completed the Knights’ rally from a 1-0 series deficit after Bend won Friday’s opener 3-1. Corvallis prevailed 7-5 on Saturday and completed the comeback on Sunday. Knights’ pitchers combined to blank the Elks in 17 of the 18 innings they played on Saturday and Sunday.
Reliever Jimmie Sherfy replaced Johnson to start the eighth and Bend quickly loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a walk. However, Sherfy struck out Donald Collins and Nick Wagner, Bend’s No. 3 and cleanup hitter, to preserve the 3-0 lead.
Sherfy has not allowed an earned run in his last 13.1 innings, over nine games, and has 18 strikeouts in that span.
Closer Mark Trentacosta of UC Irvine then pitched a perfect ninth to set the Corvallis record with his 11th save. Taylor Starr set the old Corvallis mark of 10 in 2008; Trentacosta tied that standard on Saturday, when he saved Game 2.
Corvallis wasted little time in giving Johnson runs to work with. Corey Moore of PLU doubled and scored on David Armendariz’s single in the first to send the Knights up 1-0, and Kramer Scott of University of Portland knocked in Jimmy Allen of Cal Poly, who had doubled, to make it 2-0 in the second.
Scott walked to lead off the seventh. Pinch-runner Connor Hofmann of Oregon was sacrificed to second, stole third and scored the final run on Trent Oleszczuk’s sacrifice fly.
Scott had five hits and four RBIs in the 3-game series.
Corvallis is now 25-6 since being swept by Bend on July 3-5, and has not lost consecutive games in that span. The Knights were 4-2 vs. Walla Walla in the regular season, losing 2 of 3 on the road to start the season on June 3-5 and then sweeping the Sweets in Corvallis on June 23-25.
The crowd of 597 raised the season attendance to a franchise-record 40,801 over 32 dates, an average of 1,275 per game. The old record was 31,536 in 33 dates in 2009; the Knights’ 33rd home game this year is Thursday.