By Andrew Johnson
COMSTOCK PARK – Winning division titles requires a lot of skill – and sometime a bit of luck.
Whitecaps catcher Shane Zeile started the ninth by reaching base on a pass ball after he struck out. He advanced to second on a Jose Azocar single.
Then Dayton third basemen Brantley Bell fielded a bunt and threw it wildly toward third, allowing Zeile and Azocar to score the game-tying and winning runs, respectively.
The Whitecaps improved to 25-19 on the season, good for second place in the Midwest League Eastern Division, three games behind first-place South Bend.
West Michigan has also won three games in a row and four of its last five, which has Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham quite pleased.
“We only have about 23 games (in the first half schedule) or so left and every win is a big win right now,” said Graham. “We have momentum and we’ve been playing good baseball and we needed that win tonight.
“You hear the guys celebrating right now. We’ve played some games where we’ve been flat, but we try to keep them up and to play 27 outs hard. Anything can happen in this game and it was a nice win.”
The West Michigan win came on a night that saw starting pitcher Trent Szkutnik carry a perfect game into the fifth inning, and a no-hitter through the seventh.
“Trent did a good job,” said Graham. “He executed his pitches and kept them off balance, that’s why he had a no-hitter for a long time.”
Szkutnik’s no-hitter was broken up in the seventh inning on a James Vasquez single up the middle, which gave Dayton a 1-0 lead. A Whitecaps error and a walk put two Dragon runners on base, leading to the RBI.
The game was delayed 44 minutes after the seventh inning due to rain.
When baseball returned, Dayton scored a run in the eighth inning to make the score 2-0.
But the Whitecaps responded in the home portion of the inning when Cam Gibson led off with a triple to right center and later scored on an RBI groundout from Derek Hill, cutting the deficit in half.
Hill appeared to be safe on his RBI groundout and Graham argued the call, before eventually being tossed out of the game.
Dayton threatened to extend its lead in the ninth inning when it put two runners on with one out, but Whitecaps’ reliever Jon Maciel responded by striking out the next two Dragon hitters.
West Michigan was led by Azocar, Zeile and David Gonzalez with two hits apiece while Hill had an RBI.