Cesar Valdez, who led off the season with three straight losses, had turned it around in his last two starts coming into Saturday night’s game. In the two games he had allowed only five hits and one run, while striking out ten in 12 innings of work. His six inning, one run performance tonight gave him his third win of the season and ended the Bears’ four game skid.
As good as Valdez was Saturday night, Emeralds starter, Wade LeBlanc was even more impressive as he allowed only two batters to reach base in five innings. After two ‘bleeder’ hits to lead off the game by Travis Tully and Blake Sharpe, LeBlanc settled down to retire the rest of the batters he faced in the game, 14 straight. He was taken out of the game after the fifth inning because he had reached his pitch count.
LeBlanc just finished a season at the University of Alabama in which he went 11-1 with a 2.92 earned run average. He helped lead the Crimson Tide, along with fellow Ems teammate Kody Valverde, to the NCAA Super Regional, where they lost to North Carolina.
“I was able to locate my pitches,” said LeBlanc, a second round pick in this year’s draft, after the game. “In the first inning I felt a little bit off, but as the game went on I started feeling a little more comfortable and started staying within myself.”
Both hits off LeBlanc were near outs. Tully’s hit was an infield single that second baseman Tom King wasn’t able to pick up on the run, and Blake Sharpe’s was just out of the reach of centerfielder Mike Epping’s glove as he slid forward to trap it on a hop.
The Bears were able to capitalize on Tully’s infield single as he reached second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Sharpe’s base hit. Hankerd followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, which could have led to a possible play at the plate, but shortstop Jesus Lopez came out of nowhere to take the play away from leftfielder Chad Huffman, who was waiting under the ball, and allowed Tully to tag and score easily as Lopez wasn’t able to gather himself and make the throw to home.
The score remained 1-0 until the fifth inning. Garner Wetzel led off the inning for the Emeralds with a walk. With one out, Epping reached base on and fielder’s choice, beating out the 4-to-6-to-3 double play bid to keep the inning alive. King rewarded Epping’s hustle as he lined a 3-1 pitch down the left field line for a double that scored Epping from first to tie the game.
Matt Farrington, signed this year as an un-drafted free agent out of the University of Houston, replaced LeBlanc on the mound and lasted only three batters. Joseph Batten, Edwin Roman, and Tully had consecutive singles off Farrington with Batten scoring on Tully’s hit to left center. He was quickly replaced by pitcher Jon Kirby, who was able to get out of the inning giving up only one of his inherited runners on one hit. Farrington was responsible for both runs in the inning.
Down 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, the Ems needed a last inning rally against Yakima closer Chase Christianson in order to extend their five game home winning streak. Epping answered the Ems fans pleas for a comeback by lining a one out single to right and then advancing to second on a wild pitch. After King flew out to center for the second out, all the pressure was put on the Padres’ first round draft pick, Matt Antonelli, who was able to deliver, hitting a double that landed just fair down the right field line to score Epping. The rally was ended right after however, as Christianson struck out Craig Cooper to end the game.
The Emeralds came into Saturday’s game with a team batting average of .263 with runners on base, but weren’t able to match that, as they went 2-for-24 in those opportunities. The Yakima pitching staff forced the Ems to strand a runner in all but one inning, and ten overall.
“It is frustrating,” said Manager Doug Dascenzo when asked about the lack of clutch hitting. “It hasn’t been typical of us to do that, but it’s baseball and it’s going to happen now and then. Just so happens that it happened tonight.”
The unsung contributor of the night for the Emeralds was pitcher Matt Buschmann, who kept the Bears scoreless in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, to give the Ems a chance at coming from behind. He retired all nine batters that he faced, striking out five of them.