By Kevin Brown Herald Writer
EVERETT — For six innings, Chantz Mack did everything he could to break up Eric Brooks’ no-hitter.
Everything, that is, that can be done from the bench.
“A couple of us started screaming ‘Break up the no-hitter,’ trying to get in his head a little bit,” said Mack, who wasn’t in the Everett AquaSox starting lineup on Sunday. “That didn’t work.”
While Mack couldn’t do anything to spoil Brooks’ gem — Spokane’s starting pitcher didn’t allow a hit and struck out 11 in six dominating innings — he did spoil the Indians’ afternoon.
Mack hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the AquaSox to a 3-2 victory over Spokane before a crowd of 2,609 at Everett Memorial Stadium.
With the victory, the AquaSox (20-17) clinched the second-half championship in the Northwest League’s North Division, adding it to the title they claimed in the first half. They also snapped a three-game losing streak.
“It’s nice that we did win the second half, it’s a nice little token,” AquaSox first baseman Justin Seager said. “But our main goal now is the playoffs and winning the whole thing.”
Brooks, a hard-throwing right-hander, overpowered the Sox for six innings. He opened the game by striking out seven of the first nine hitters he faced, including five in a row at one point. Every batter in Everett’s starting lineup except No. 2 hitter Michael Faulkner fanned at least once against Brooks.
“He had four pitches he could throw in the (strike) zone, which makes it tough, especially when he’s putting it where he wants it,” Seager said. “That’s tough to hit no matter who you are.”
Fortunately for the Sox, their starting pitcher nearly matched Brooks. Nate Koneski pitched five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out six.
A 23-year-old lefty, Koneski hasn’t allowed a run in his past three starts. He’s pitched a total of 15 innings in that span, surrendering just six hits and striking out 17.
“I had a three-pitch mix going, my fastball, changeup and curveball,” Koneski said. “Over my last three starts, being able to get all three of those over for strikes has been great. And the guys behind me have been picking me up, too.”
While Koneski obviously saw Brooks mowing down the Everett hitters, he didn’t let it affect his mindset.
“The main thing as a pitcher is you throw every inning like it’s zero-zero,” he said. “For me it was just going out there, throwing strikes and trying to keep our team in it. Hats off to him. He threw a great game.”
Once the starting pitchers departed, the hitters on both sides had better luck squaring up the ball.
Spokane opened the scoring with a run in the seventh. Ryan Cordell singled and scored on Evan Van Hoosier’s double to right-center field. Jordan Akins added a solo homer in the eighth, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Everett scored all three of its runs in the bottom of the eighth. Phillips Castillo led off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Lonnie Kauppila’s ground out to second.
With two out, Ian Miller walked, setting the stage for Mack, who manager Rob Mummau called on to pinch-hit for Faulkner.
“That’s the first time I’ve been nervous all year at the plate,” Mack said. “I don’t know why, I just had butterflies.”
They didn’t last long.
Spokane relief pitcher John Straka (2-2) left a fastball in the middle of the plate and Mack drove it over the right-center-field wall for his second homer as a Frog and his second in three games.
The blast made a winner of Everett relief pitcher Min-Sih Chen (2-2) and gave the Sox some welcome momentum heading into this week’s NWL playoffs.
“Now that we did win (the second-half title) it’s a little bit of a relief,” Seager said. “That will help us in the playoffs to hopefully get rolling.”
Everett opens the postseason on Tuesday at Vancouver.