In a doubleheader that overflowed with late drama on both sides, the Gateway Grizzlies clinched the Frontier League West Division title thanks to a pair of walk-off victories at Grizzlies Ballpark, with Clint Freeman’s come-from-behind, two-out, two run homer registering a 7-6 win in game one, and Andrew Penner’s two-out, walk-off single in sudden death getting Gateway a 4-3 victory in game two.
In the first contest, most of the offense came early, with the Grizzlies opening the scoring in the bottom of the first. Freeman smacked a two-out RBI single to put the Grizzlies ahead 1-0, and after a double by Penner, Kyle Gaedele hit a subsequent single to make it 2-0.
The Otters responded by scoring five runs in the top of the second inning, including four on a grand slam by Kona Quiggle, taking a 5-2 advantage. But the Grizzlies responded right back in the bottom of the second, with Eric Rivera’s RBI single getting them within 5-3, and Freeman coming up clutch again with a two-run automatic double down the left field line to tie the score at 5-5.
Evansville was able to scratch across the lead run on a Jeffrey Baez sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, and held that lead until the bottom of the seventh. In the final regulation inning, Jairus Richards led off with a walk and stole second base before going to third on a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt by Willie Estrada. After a strikeout by Otters closer Jake Polancic (1-4) got the Grizzlies down to their final out, Freeman came up again, and crushed the first pitch over the right-center field wall for a two-run, walk-off home run to stun the visitors 7-6, clinching at least a split of the four-game series.
In between games, Schaumburg’s loss to Florence lowered the Grizzlies’ magic number for the division championship down to one, and in the second game, Gateway got off to a good start on Penner’s RBI double in the bottom of the first inning. The Grizzlies held that 1-0 lead thanks to the work of Nathanial Tate, who pitched five outstanding, shutout innings in his second start of the season while striking out a career-high nine Otters batters. They would expand the advantage to 2-0 on a Mark Vierling solo home run in the bottom of the fourth.
In the top of the sixth inning, however, the twists and turns kicked into overdrive in game two. Dakota Phillips cracked a two-run, home run to left-center field off Tate to tie the score at 2-2, and in the bottom half, Estrada would give Gateway the lead back with a go-ahead RBI double just out of the reach of a diving Bryan Rosario in right field, making the score 3-2 Grizzlies with just three more outs to go in regulation.
In the top of the seventh, Baez reached on a pinch-hit single with one out, and moved to second base on a wild pitch by Josh Lucas. After a pop-out by pinch-hitter Ethan Skender, Lucas got the Otters down to their final strike when Baez stole third base, with a crucial throwing error by Estrada on the same play allowing the tying run to score, sending the game to extra innings at 3-3.
In the eighth, Lucas was able to get a strikeout and a caught-stealing from Estrada to allow no runs in the top half with the International Tiebreaker in effect, but neither was Gateway able to score the winning run in the bottom half against Kevin Davis. The game then went to “sudden death,” with the Grizzlies choosing to hit, and getting an automatic runner, Vierling, placed on first base, representing the winning run.
Evansville brought Polancic back to the mound, and Cole Brannen laid down a sacrifice to put the winning run at second base. Estrada then worked a walk, and Peter Zimmermann reached on a pinch-hit single in his first at-bat in a live game since August 4, loading the bases with only one out for Richards.
Richards popped out to shallow left field, however, setting up Penner for the final, dramatic blow of the game, as the former Otter, down to his final strike, dumped a walk-off single into center field just out of the reach of a diving Noah Myers, sending Grizzlies Ballpark into a celebration, and delivering Gateway their fourth division title in club history, along with their first since their last playoff appearance in 2012.
With the victory, Gateway clinched the midweek series against Evansville, and will go for a four-game sweep in the finale on Thursday, August 31, at 6:45 p.m. CT. Collin Sullivan will take the mound for his final regular season start in a matchup of aces against the Otters’ Tim Holdgrafer at Grizzlies Ballpark.
Jason Guerette is the Grizzlies' Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations and the "Voice of the Grizzlies." 2023 will be his second season with the organization, handling lead broadcasting duties on the Grizzlies Media Network as well as being in charge of all team press releases and game-day media materials.
2023 will also be Jason's ninth season in the Frontier League after spending 2014-21 in the same role with the Southern Illinois Miners. Overall, he has broadcasted close to 800 games in the league, including playoffs. During the baseball offseason, he serves as a play-by-play broadcaster for Manhattan College and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, with games being seen on ESPN+ among other platforms.
In addition to broadcasting, Jason works as a public address announcer for Seton Hall University women's basketball as well as Columbia University men's and women's basketball. He also spent nine years working "behind the scenes" as a freelance board operator and highlight editor at Westwood One for their coverage of the NFL, NCAA football, and NCAA basketball.
Jason graduated from Seton Hall in 2012 with B.A. in Communication Studies and a minor in Broadcasting & Visual Media.