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Flashback Friday: Growlers Playoff Victory Thriller

On August 13th, 2018, The Kalamazoo Growlers took to the diamond under the stadium lights of Simmons Field in Kenosha, Wisconsin. For the Growlers, just being in this game way history-making… and they were about to make a little more before the night was over.

This installment of the Growlers and Kingfish rivalry marked the first playoff game in franchise history for Kalamazoo in the team’s fifth year in existence. Kyle Virbitsky got the start for Kalamazoo, who Virbitsky currently plays at the High-A level for the Oakland A’s. After surrendering a run in the first, Virbitsky finished his outing after six innings with three earned runs allowed.

The Growlers and Fish played in front of a bumper crowd of nearly 1,500 that night in Southeastern Wisconsin, a usually hostile environment for visiting teams. In the sea of Kenosha faithful sat ten or so fans adorned in navy and gold cheering on the boys from KZoo.

Growlers General Manager Brian Colopy and front office members made the trip to Kenosha in hopes of witnessing the first playoff win since the team’s inception. ” We made the playoffs not really knowing what was going on or what to expect,” Colopy said of the experience. The Growlers reached the postseason on this occasion as a wild card team and faced an uphill climb from the get-go on the road.

After falling behind by a run in the first inning, the Growlers roared back with a three-run bomb of the bat of current Pirates farmhand Dylan Shockley. Shockley, a product of the University of Rio Grande, had played only nine regular-season games for KZoo and recorded only two hits in 26 at-bats going into the playoffs. The timely blast from the current AA baller shot the underdog Growlers in front by a pair.

Runs in Kenosha’s 3rd and 6th innings leveled the game up, heading to the top of the 8th inning as the pitcher’s duel looked destined for a dramatic finish. Kalamazoo kick-started the top of the 8th with a double and walk, but two quick outs put Kenosha within reach of escaping the jam. When the Growlers needed a hero, they called upon Jared Miller to save the day. Miller, who just recently completed his collegiate career at Notre Dame, was 0-2 in the game when he stepped to the plate. After a first-pitch strike, Miller ripped a single that scored Johnathan Foster and gave the visiting boys from Kalamazoo the lead. Dylan Shockley would tack on another run to provide KZoo with a two-run cushion headed to the bottom of the ninth after two deadlocked half innings.

The Growlers put the game in the hands of Notre Dame fireballer and current Reds High-A starter Joe Boyle. Brian Colopy remembers Boyle’s first pitch vividly “He comes in and his first pitch is about 100 MPH at the screen behind home”. Boyle surrendered a walk and a single to put Kingfish runners on first and second with nobody out and the winning run at the plate. The Kenosha crowd was sensing the walk-off opportunity on the horizon. “We’re sitting there with the whole stadium going bananas, and the five or six of us that went are just getting it.”

With his back to the wall, Boyle answered with back-to-back strikeouts to put the Growlers an out away from glory. A walk that loaded the bases, though, put the winning run on the pillows for Kenosha. On the second pitch of the subsequent at-bat Jack Weiller, the Kingfish first baseman, drove a ball to center field that hung up just enough to allow Kawambee Moss to make a play on it and grant Kalamazoo the city’s first playoff win in franchise history.

After the initial celebration Brian Colopy had a quick realization “I looked to Kevin and said we have to play a game tomorrow in Kalamazoo, and we were not ready for this. We had to alert the media and start pushing tickets before we even left Kenosha”. The Growlers drew a near-sellout crowd overnight but fell short at Homer Stryker Field to end a memorable run.

Kalamazoo reached the playoffs again in 2019 but was handled by the eventual league champions from Traverse City, leaving the 5-3 victory in Kenosha as the only playoff win in Growlers history.

Just weeks ago, Kalamazoo won their first division title in franchise history and is guaranteed a playoff spot come August this summer. The 2022 team will have their chance now to write themselves into the history books, just as the 2018 group did years ago.

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