The game also provided a chance for Eugene’s pitchers to put on a free clinic for the fans, recording 17 strikeouts and allowing only four Bears to reach base all game.
Things didn’t look good for the Ems in the first. After fanning the leadoff man on four pitches, Eugene starter Aaron Breit allowed a fly ball double to Blake Sharpe and a first-pitch single to Cyle Hankerd. With runners on the corners, Breit’s balk allowed Sharpe to come home and Hankerd to move up to second. Breit settled down after that, though, retiring the next two hitters on a strikeout and a groundout to shortstop Jesus Lopez.
Breit, aside from the early run, was dominant in his three innings of work. He struck out seven of the 13 Yakima batters he faced, allowing only two runners to reach base after the first inning.
The Ems ran themselves out of a rally in the bottom of the fourth. After Matt Antonelli started the inning with a groundout to short, Craig Cooper lined a sharp single through the box into centerfield. Huffman did the same, but was thrown out trying to advance to second after the center-fielder’s throw got past the cutoff man and trickled to the plate. Catcher Julio Parra raced to the ball, picked it up, and fired a strike to second in time to nip Huffman and hold Cooper at third. The Ems chances were snuffed out by the Bears after they induced catcher Luany Sanchez to bounce out to shortstop for out number three.
Eugene recovered quickly and mounted another rally in the fifth inning. Number seven batter Casey Smith tagged the first pitch he saw into center field for a leadoff single. Garner Wetzel then reached on an error by Dilone and Lopez bunted his way aboard to load the bases with nobody out for the top of the Eugene order. One out later, second baseman Tom King grounded an RBI single past the dive of first baseman Brad Miller to knot the game at one. Antonelli’s fielder’s choice to third and Cooper’s hit by pitch brought home the second and third runs of the inning and kept the bases loaded for the red-hot Chad Huffman.
Huffman’s slow ground ball to short was thrown past second base and into center field, allowing runs four and five to touch home. That would be all for the Ems in the fifth, as both Sanchez and Smith were retired for the final two outs of the frame.
“Guys had some real quality at-bats, and fought through that inning and ended up scoring a few runs,” Mike Epping, who went one-for-three with two walks and a run scored, said about his team after the game.
Things looked promising again for the Emeralds in the sixth, when they loaded the bases on three straight walks after two were out. The rally died though, when Cooper grounded to second for out number three.
Breit exited the game after the third, but left the game in the capable arms of relievers Justin Mattison and Brooks Dunn. The pair picked up right where Breit left off, combining to strike out six more hitters and allow only two runners to reach base over the next four innings.
“We got good starting pitching from Aaron Breit, and Justin Mattison came in and did a great job…as a staff we were just making our pitches and locating the ball,” Dunn said about the dominance he and his fellow pitchers exhibited Friday.
Rolando Valdez retired the Bears in order in eighth and ninth, sealing Eugene’s second comeback victory in as many days.
“We never give up. We fight to the end, whether there’s one out left or whether there’s fifteen outs left, we’re always going to fight to that last out. We’ve got a really good team here,” Epping said about his team’s resiliency.
With two games remaining in their set with the now 7-19 Bears, the 14-11 Emeralds are now just three games back of the division-leading Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and look to keep gaining ground over the weekend.
Eugene throws Wade Leblanc (1-0, 6.00 ERA) at the Bears on Saturday and closes out the series with Jackson Quezada (0-1, 3.60). Quezada appeared in relief in the first game of the series, giving up two earned runs on two hits while striking out one in an inning of relief.