Salem drew blood quickly, striking for one run in the top of the first. After center-fielder Emmanuel Burriss struck out looking, right-fielder Bobby Felmy reached on an infield single and stole second on the next pitch. The white-hot Will Thompson drew the first of his three walks to put runners at first and second for first baseman Brett Pill. Then things got interesting. Pill slapped a ground ball toward second for what should have been an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Instead, second baseman Nicholas Kliebert threw past second into center field. This allowed Thompson to go to third, Felmy to score and Pill to end up at second. Instead of the side being retired in order, runners were on second and third with only one down. Starter Jackson Quezada recovered, however, retiring Adam Witter on a pop out to Kliebert and inducing Ryan Rohlinger to foul out to first baseman Craig Cooper.
In the Ems’ half of the first, center-fielder Mike Epping struck out staring, third baseman Matt Antonelli shot a ground ball double down the left-field line to put a runner in scoring position with only one man down. The threat was quashed though, when Cooper fouled to right and Chad Huffman flew out to deep left.
The Volcanoes tacked on another run in the next inning on Eugene’s second mental lapse. Consecutive one-out singles by Mike McBryde and Brad Boyer put runners at the corners with one man down. Again, things got interesting. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Boyer started to second but stopped halfway. Catcher Kody Valverde bit on Boyer’s bluff and threw through to second base, allowing McBryde to score easily from third.
The Ems had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in both the third and fifth innings, but both those rallies were squelched by a combination of baserunning mistakes and timely Volcanoes’ defense.
Shortstop Tom King opened Eugene’s third with a single to left and advanced to second when left-fielder Matt Weston lost the ball in the sun. Leadoff man Mike Epping followed one batter later with a walk to put two Ems on with only one down for Antonelli, the Northwest League’s Player of the Week and the 17th overall pick of the 2006 draft. Antonelli, however, grounded a 2-2 pitch to third where Rohlinger started an inning-ending 5-3 twin killing.
Designated hitter Casey Smith and King started the Emeralds fifth-inning rally with a pair of one-out singles through the hole between shortstop and third base. Eugene’s hopes to get on the scoreboard were snuffed out by the next hitter when Kliebert rapped Cowart’s final pitch to Burriss who started the Volcanoes’ second double play in the last three innings.
Salem-Keizer’s two-run lead seemed like much more with the way Volcanoes’ starter Adam Cowart was dealing. Cowart, the Northwest League’s pitcher of the week for June 26-2 with a 3-0 record and a perfect 0.00 ERA, held the Emeralds in check with five innings of four-hit, three-strikeout baseball.
Valverde attested to the Ems’ trouble with Cowart, who also won the first game of the series for the Volcanoes with five stingy innings in which he allowed only two hits and one walk.
“He’s doing a good job of keeping the ball down, getting ground balls. That’s what he does; he’s been pitching well so far.”
Though the score remained 2-0 through seven quick innings, the Eugene players never lost faith in their abilities to mount a comeback.
“It was just even-keel, you know? We just never doubted ourselves. We never thought we were gonna lose,” left-fielder and eventual hero Chad Huffman said after the game.
It was that attitude that helped keep Salem-Keizer at bay and Eugene’s hopes for a win intact into the eighth inning, when the Emeralds got on the scoreboard in a big way.
Kliebert got on base with a one-out single and Epping moved him up with a walk. Antonelli moved both runners over with a textbook sacrifice bunt between the plate and the mound. With two runners in scoring position, cleanup hitter Craig Cooper strode to the batter’s box. Cooper, who leads the league in hitting with a .389 mark, answered the bell with a run-scoring single to right. Huffman then got hit by a pitch, setting the table for Valverde who promptly singled into center to bring Cooper home. Luke Cannon, in as a pinch-hitter for Willy Crafort, brought home the go-ahead with a sacrifice fly to left field. The throw in from left was in plenty of time to nail Huffman at home, but when Witter mishandled the throw Huffman danced over his outstretched arm onto the center of home plate. The rally ended on Smith’s groundout to third. The Ems had the lead at 3-2, but not for long.
Salem-Keizer started a rally of its own in the top of the ninth when Chris Todd, in as a pinch-hitter for Boyer, singled. Todd was quickly erased when he was caught stealing by Valverde’s strong throw to second. The speedy Burriss then reached on Smith’s fielding error and quickly stole both second and third base. Thompson dumped a single in to left to bring Burriss around to tie the game at three.
The score remained tied until the tenth when Huffman led off the inning by getting hit by his second pitch of the game.
“I was trying to get a pitch to hit. I knew he had a lot of sink. I kind of backed off the plate a little bit, scooted up to try and cut off the sink. He hit me. That’s the second time he hit me. He tried to throw a slider, it got away from him and he hit me,” Huffman explained about his frame of mind going to the at-bat.
Adam Paul’s balk moved Huffman to second, and after Kody Valverde was intentionally passed, Cannon grounded into a double play to move him to third with two men down. With Smith batting, Paul uncorked a wild pitch that got all the way to the backstop and allowed Huffman to cross the plate with the winning run.
After the game, Huffman expressed both pride for the way his team played and happiness that they were able to complete not one, but two comebacks against the league’s top team.
“We battled back the whole time. We were down 2-0 until the eighth inning, so we came back, we battled back, we got good at-bats,” Huffman said. The win cuts a game off the Volcanoes’ league-lead and moves the Ems to three games behind.
Next up for the Ems is a three-game set with the Everett Aquasox at Memorial Stadium in Everett, Wash. The series will mark the first meeting between the two teams on the year. Eugene will throw Orlando Lara (1-0, 5.84 ERA), Brooks Dunn (0-4, 7.98) and Matt Buschmann (2-1, 3.24).