Kirby Robertson now has a full appreciation for the well-worn sports adage that says it isn't how you start but how you finish.
And the Pippins can be thankful for that.
After a dicey first two innings on the mound, Robertson settled in and put up four consecutive zeros as Yakima Valley rolled to an 11-5 victory over Bellingham in the third and deciding game of the West Coast League’s North Division playoff series Monday night at Yakima County Stadium.
The Pippins advance to the WCL championship series and will host four-time reigning champion Corvallis in Game 1 on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. The Knights, who swept Ridgefield 13-6 and 9-0 over the weekend in the South Division series, will host Game 2 on Wednesday and Game 3, if necessary.
Bellingham’s Luis Aviles, who homered on Saturday to lead the Bells to a 14-1 win, left the yard again Monday with a two-run shot off Robertson in the first inning. The right-hander from Richland then ran into trouble again in the second, giving up two hits and two walks.
But the Bells only got one run out of that, and Robertson then found his groove, retiring 13 of the next 15 batters he faced.
Meanwhile, Yakima Valley's offense produced two big innings — a four-run first inning when Bellingham's starter struggled with his command followed by five runs in the fifth.
With the Bells' starter chased, the Pippins pounced on his replacement, who also struggled to throw strikes with four walks while getting only one out. Sam Olsson delivered the big blow with a two-run single with two outs for a 10-3 lead. Olsson finished 2-for-5 with three RBI.
YV leadoff hitter Connor Cobales was 2-for-2 with a double and two RBI, and Willie Lajoie was 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.
Corvallis (48-13) played six games against Yakima Valley (41-19) during the regular season and won four, most recently a three-game sweep earlier this month.