The Quad-Cities River Bandits have found themselves down at times in the playoffs but never out.
Once again, they found a way to get it done.
Josh Rojas hit a walk-off single in the 10th inning to score Luis Payano and give the Bandits a 5-4 win and a 1-0 series lead over the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League semifinals Saturday night at Modern Woodmen Park.
Payano slid into home just ahead of the tag from Kernels catcher Ben Rortverdt to send the Bandits dugout pouring onto the field in celebration.
"We've played four games, the first round was all playoff-atmosphere type games, all close and this one obviously the same," Bandits manager Russ Steinhorn said. "We're battle-tested and that's a good thing."
Payano was pinch-running for Colin Moran after Moran led off the inning with a walk. Chuckie Robinson laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Payano to second, and then Abraham Toro-Hernandez was intentionally walked to bring up Rojas, who hit a 2-1 pitch off Ryan Mason into right field for the win.
"Once they walked Toro and had a meeting on the mound, I knew I was facing a sinker-changeup guy so I knew they were probably telling him I'd been chasing off-speed down in the dirt all game and probably the last couple times we played them," Rojas said. "I just knew that at-bat I was going to see it up and not go after their breaking balls in the dirt and I did that."
The win came after the Bandits rallied from an early 4-0 deficit with a four-run seventh inning to tie the game.
"We just have confidence in ourselves, that's all it takes," Rojas said. "When you're down 4-0 it's easy to just give up and say we'll get them again tomorrow, but I don't think any of these guys don't have the self belief to tell ourselves that we can come back from anything."
Cedar Rapids unleashed its offense in the second inning. Lewin Diaz led off the inning with a double, then Quad-Cities starter Carlos Sanabria issued a pair of walks to load the bases with one out.
Rortverdt hit a two-run single and Jimmy Kerrigan scored on a wild pitch. Ariel Montesino followed with a single to right field that was bobbled by Josh Rojas, allowing Rortverdt to score.
Sanabria was lifted once the score was 4-0 for Yohan Ramirez, and the Bandits reliever was strong in his outing. Ramirez pitched 5⅓ innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six.
"Ramirez' best outing of the year, by far," Steinhorn said. "He was 95, 97 throwing his changeup at any time and it was impressive to watch. It was really fun to see all his hard work pay off in a moment like that."
Offensively, Quad-Cities struggled early against Tyler Watson. The Cedar Rapids pitcher stymied the River Bandits' bats, allowing two hits through the first six innings.
The Bandits, though, figured out Watson in the seventh.
Rojas drew a walk, followed by Ray Henderson and Kristian Trompiz each hitting two-out singles to load the bases. Bryan De La Cruz hit a two-run single to chase Watson, but the Kernels bullpen didn't far much better.
Chas McCormick hit an RBI single and Colin Moran reached on an error that scored De La Cruz to tie the game.
"You should hear them every time they come back in the dugout, they're cheering each other on, 'Hey, we got this, stay focused, one at a time,' different phrases like that," Steinhorn said. "That's encouraging to see that their mindset is never out of it."
The series shifts to Cedar Rapids for a 4 p.m. first pitch today. The Bandits know exactly what kind of effort to expect from the Kernels, having been in this identical position last series against Peoria.
"We just know we have to play extra hard not that it's at their place," Rojas said. "They're a good team and we knew this game would be tough and we needed to get one at home because playing at their place is going to be tough.
"Now we just have to go into their place and have a strong mentality and know they're not going to roll over for us and take one from them."