Right fielder Justin Williams launched a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning as the South Bend Silver Hawks (36-26, 76-55) defeated the West Michigan Whitecaps (39-23, 80-52) 6-3, Sunday at Four Winds Field. The Hawks rallied from 3-2 down in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then walked off on Williams’ bomb in the eleventh to cut West Michigan’s lead for the best overall record in the Midwest League Eastern Division to 3.5 games.
West Michigan, the Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. With one out, Banda plunked second baseman Javier Betancourt to put a runner on first. Left fielder Ralph Rhymes hit a hot shot to third that Joe Munoz fielded cleanly, but his throw to second to start the double play sailed high, wide, and into right field, allowing Betancourt to go around to third. First baseman Dominic Ficociello hit a grounder to short that scored Betancourt for a 1-0 Whitecaps lead.
South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, tied the game up in the bottom of the fourth. Shortstop Andrew Velazquez led off with a walk and then stole second. Left fielder Chuck Taylor chased a ball in the dirt for strike three but Velazquez alertly took third on the throw down to first that retired Taylor. Designated hitter Michael Perez drove home Velazquez with a sacrifice fly to deep right for a 1-1 tie.
The Hawks took the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning off Whitecaps starter Jonathon Crawford. Justin Williams lined a single to left to lead off the inning. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and then went to third on a one-out groundout by first baseman Marty Herum. Williams scampered home on the second wild pitch of the inning by Crawford and the Hawks had a 2-1 lead.
The Whitecaps tied the game in the top of the seventh off Hawks reliever Tom Jameson. Jameson entered in relief of starter Anthony Banda who allowed just one unearned run in six innings of work. Shortstop Domingo Leyba led off the inning by stretching a soft liner to left into a double. Catcher Bennett Pickar advanced Leyba to third on a chopper to short that was the first out of the inning. Jameson struck out third baseman Francisco Contreras for the second out of the inning, but right fielder Wynton Bernard singled up the middle to score Leyba and tie the game at 2-2.
West Michigan took the lead in the top of the ninth inning against Hawks reliever Nick Sarianides (W, 1-1). After Sarianides struck out the first batter of the inning, center fielder Ross Kivett grounded a single to left. Leyba hit a ball back to Sarianides but he threw low to second for an error, putting runners at first and second with no outs. Pickar grounded a single to right and Kivett was sent home only to be gunned down at the plate on a great throw by Williams. Leyba went around to third on the play leaving runners at the corners. Pickar stole second and Contreras walked to load the bases for Bernard. Bernard drew a walk to force in the go-ahead run and the Whitecaps had a 3-2 lead.
South Bend refused to go quietly in the bottom of the ninth against Zac Reininger (L, 4-3). Velazquez led off with a double off the base of the right-center field wall. Taylor then hit a chopper to first. Ficociello fielded the ball cleanly and tried to get Velazquez going to third, but his throw was low and Velazquez was safe on the fielder’s choice. Perez walked to load the bases with nobody out. Munoz hit the first pitch he saw from Reininger for a sacrifice fly to center that tied the game at three. Reininger settled down and retired the next two batters in order to keep the game tied going into extra innings.
South Bend sewed up the game in the bottom of the eleventh inning. Reininger, into his third inning of work, began by getting Velazquez to fly out to center. Taylor lined a single to left and advanced to second on a Perez groundout. Munoz was hit by a pitch which put runners at first and second. Williams stepped to the plate and worked the count to 3-0 before crushing a fastball deep over the left field fence for the three-run walk-off homer.
The Hawks and Whitecaps continue their series on Monday night with first pitch scheduled for 7:05pm. Righty Matt Davenport (5-5, 2.88 ERA) takes the mound for West Michigan while righty Blake Perry (7-6, 4.59 ERA) gets the start for South Bend. It is Belly Buster Monday at Four Winds Field where you can upgrade your ticket for a wristband that includes unlimited hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, and peanuts during the game for $15. It is also Silver Hawks Calendar Giveaway Night where the first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a free Silver Hawks calendar.