STOCKTON — The Stockton Ports’ season ended in the top of the first inning Sunday night. Over the remaining 8 ½ innings, the Ports slowly came to the realization of that daunting outcome.
Visalia shut the Ports out 3-0 before a crowd of 1,516 at Stockton Ballpark in Game 5 of the California League North Division playoffs, ending Stockton’s 2018 season.
The Ports played from behind virtually the entire night, courtesy of Daulton Varsho’s three-run homer off Stockton starter Matt Milburn with one out in the top of the first.
Milburn started the game on short rest and was slated to throw two innings or 35 pitches, whichever came first, before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Outside of the one swing of the bat from Varsho, the game plan set forth by Ports manager Rick Magnante worked. Jake Bray relieved Millburn in the third and proceeded to throw two scoreless innings. Andrew Tomasovich took over in the fifth and did the same.
Sam Sheehan, Pat Krall and Angel Duno each took turns on the mound to keep the score right where it was.
“They each individually stepped up and did their jobs,” Magnante said. “For our guys, after that first inning, to come in and hold the line and keep us in the ball game, I can’t say enough good things.”
The game plan, however, didn’t necessarily account for a non-existent Stockton offense. The Ports didn’t have a hit until the fifth inning, when they brought the tying run to the plate with one out. But two consecutive strikeouts stranded the runners and ended the inning.
In all, 12 straight Ports were retired before Luke Persico singled up the middle for Stockton’s second hit of the game in the ninth. But two groundouts sealed the loss for the Ports.
Visalia used four pitchers on the night, led by 4 1/3 innings from starter Sebastian Kessay. The 25-year-old had a 13.50 earned run average in two appearances for the Rawhide before Sunday.
“I tip my hat to them,” Magnante said. “They pitched equally as well, if not better than we pitched. Sometimes you have to acknowledge your opponent.
“It takes nothing away from what our guys did. We were up against a formidable task tonight.”
For Magnante, the 2018 Cal League Manager of the Year, the Ports’ summer was essentially a tale of two seasons. The Ports played their way to a first-half championship, then fought to stay atop the Cal League North Division with a roster heavily altered by call-ups and injuries.
The team they brought into the season was not the team they brought into the playoffs, Magnante said. But it was a group that fought to the very end, and pushed Visalia to five games before hanging things up.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about tonight,” Magnante said. “We had a great season.”
The sudden halt of the baseball season is always a strange dynamic for Magnante, he said. The routine he had grown so accustomed to during the season suddenly ends, and tomorrow he won’t be headed out to the ballpark.
Instead, he and the rest of the Ports find solace in the achievements and accomplishments from a long season. For Magnante, he got to work with a talented team and a great staff, one he said was an integral part of Stockton’s success this season.
It was a great year, he said. It just ended too soon.
“I’m very pleased with the way everything developed and the way it finished,” Magnante said. “I’m just sorry we came up a bit short.”
Contact reporter Nick Woodard at (209) 546-8272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@nwoodard25.