MISSOULA — Well that was quick.
The Missoula Osprey saw their hopes of a second Pioneer League championship in three years come to an end Monday at Ogren-Allegiance Park. Great Falls scored six runs in the fourth inning and completed a two-game playoff sweep with an 8-5 win in the North Division best-of-3 series.
It marked the first time the Osprey have ever been swept in postseason play.
"When we first saw them I thought they were a little lifeless tonight," Missoula manager Mike Benjamin said of Great Falls, which spotted the O's a 3-0 lead. "But it changed once they got in. They kind of got a second wind and strange things happen.
"They swung it against us at their place, too. They've got some guys that are swinging it and obviously the long ball hurt us both nights."
Anemic pitching and weak hitting with runners in scoring position led to Missoula's playoff demise. Benjamin gave 17-year-old Elvis Luciano (0-1) his first start Monday and he was doing fine until the fourth when he squandered a three-run lead, surrendering five before being removed.
From there it was fighting from behind for the hosts and they failed to score in the final four frames. Missoula finished with a 38-39 record while Great Falls will take a 35-42 mark into the Pioneer League championship series against Ogden later this week.
The Osprey looked good early, loading the bases with no outs in the second inning after Yerzy's infield single and Juan Araujo's double. But they came away empty and fans had to wonder if the team was snake-bit after going 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position Sunday in Great Falls.
The O's shook their slump with runners in scoring position in the third. Joel Novas was awarded first after he was hit by a Parker Rigler pitch, then Gabriel Maciel drew a walk. The runners moved up on a wild pitch and Novas scored on a sacrifice fly by Keshawn Lynch.
Yerzy stepped to the plate with two outs and stroked the ball over the center field fence, giving the hosts a 3-0 lead.
Great Falls wasted no time in answering. It battered Luciano for four hits in the fourth, prompting his removal. Casey Kulina came on in relief and was greeted rudely by Craig Dedelow, who hit a towering three-run home run to right field to give the visitors at 6-3 lead.
The Osprey cut their deficit to 6-4 in the bottom half with a run off reliever Adam Panayotovich. Jose Caballero singled and scored on a base hit by Novas.
Great Falls answered with two in the fifth. Nate Nolan hit a no-doubt home run to left off Kulina.
Diaz responded with a home run to left in the bottom half.
"For me it was a good season," said Benjamin, whose team made franchise history by finishing first in both halves of the regular season. "I think a lot of the kids came a long way. I think we got better as the season went on and hopefully they can carry that into next year."
Notes: Missoula was 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position in the series ... Andy Yerzy led the Osprey attack Monday, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs ... Ogden completed its sweep of defending champ Orem Monday ... Osprey alumnus Gabriel Moya was called up to the Minnesota Twins on Monday, making the left-handed pitcher the 61st player in O's history to spend time in the Major Leagues.