BATAVIA — They’ll have to fight it out like ’Cats and ’Dogs.
The Batavia Muckdogs evened their best-of-three New York-Pennsylvania League playoff series with the Tri-City ValleyCats Wednesday with a 5-4 win in blustery conditions at Dwyer Stadium.
Batavia (46-30) staved off a late rally by Tri-City, which won the series opener 10-9 in extra innings Tuesday.
Tonight’s rubber match — set for 7:05 p.m. — will be winner-take-all as the victor will advance to the championship series to face either Jamestown or Brooklyn.
The Jammers won the opener, but the Cyclones evened the series, winning 9-8 in 12 innings Wednesday to force a Game 3. The series finale will be in Brooklyn tonight.
Wednesday’s game at Dwyer had an exciting ending.
In the top of the ninth, Justin Edwards — who got time as an extended reliever Wednesday as much of the bullpen was exhausted from Tuesday’s four-hour, 11-inning marathon — found himself in trouble after pitching shutout innings in the seventh and eighth.
Edwards gave up a leadoff walk to pinch hitter Telvin Nash, then a double off the right field wall to Chris Wallace, putting runners on third and second.
Batavia manager Dann Bilardello then called on Keith Butler, who had pitched 1 1/3 innings Tuesday, to close the game out.
Butler retired Dan Adamson — who hit the game-winning home run Tuesday — on a flyout. Then Wilton Infante, who pinch-ran for Nash, came in on Mike Kvasnicka’s groundout.
With two outs, Kike Hernandez kept Tri-City alive when he reached on an error. Ben Orloff then singled to center, just past a diving Nick Longmire. Wallace came in to score, and steamrolling behind him was Jack Healey, a pinch runner for Hernandez.
Second baseman Joey Bergman, backing up Longmire, scooped up the loose ball and rifled in a throw to catcher Juan Castillo, who tagged out Healey for the final out of the game.
“I knew Nick was going to have to make a sliding play, so when I saw him miss it I just ran over and picked it up,” said Bergman. “I honestly just threw it as hard as I could, and it ended up being right.”
As in Tuesday night’s heartbreaking loss, the Muckdogs fell behind early Wednesday as starter Zach Russell gave up a leadoff double to Orloff. Consecutive groundouts by Austin Wates and Tyler Burnett brought in Orloff.
Russell then walked Marcus Nidiffer, Adam Bailey and Wallace to load the bases, and Russell hit Dan Adamson with a pitch to force in Nidiffer with the ValleyCats’ second run.
Bergman got the Muckdogs out of the jam when he made a sliding grab and threw to Russell covering first for the inning-ending 4-1 putout.
“That was the play of the game,” Bilardello said. “(Bergman) was our MVP tonight.”
The double would prove to be the only hit Russell would allow as he earned the win, tossing six innings.
“I was just trying to do too much (in the first inning),” Russell said. “In the second, I just concentrated on throwing strikes. I stopped trying to do it all myself and trusted my defense.”
Tri-City’s lead held until the bottom of the fifth when Yunier Castillo tied the game, scoring on a Jon Rodriguez single. Castillo, Batavia’s No. 9 batter, led off the inning with a single.
Rodriguez ended up being the go ahead run as ValleyCats starter Andrew Robinson walked Bergman with the bases loaded.
There was some controversy on the call, as the Muckdogs scoreboard and many in the game believed there was only a three-ball count on Bergman. Home plate umpire Chris Tipton — the same ump who tossed most of the Muckdogs’ coaching staff last week — conferred with the other umpires on the diamond, but ultimately decided that Bergman drew the walk.
“We know (the umpires) are doing the best they can, and you can’t really let the umpire get to you, because it just carries over to your next at bat or pitch. So you just play your game,” Bergman said.
Batavia added single runs in the seventh and eighth.
Rodriguez, who had three hits Tuesday, kept rolling with an RBI single to score Victor Sanchez from second in the seventh. In the eighth, Sanchez returned the favor with a RBI single down the third base line, bringing in Chris Edmondson. Edmondson reached on a two-out infield single to keep the frame alive.
“Last night was a rough loss, but we knew they’d have to come back and beat us at home,” said Bergman. “We’re pretty tough at home, and we had one of our best arms going in Russell. We just came out and played our game.”
Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Longmire and Sanchez both finished 2-for-4.
Andrew Moss (8-2, 3.35 ERA) gets the nod for the all-important Game 3 tonight against Tri-City’s David Martinez (5-2, 3.02 ERA).
“Everybody is so pumped. That was such a sick play to end the game,” gushed Russell. “Hopefully we can bring that energy to the next game.”