Emeralds shutout Hawks in 1-0 nail biter

Orlando Lara

EUGENE - When Rolando Valdez blew a fastball past Deryck Lewis to end the game Friday night, the Eugene Emeralds received a standing ovation from the roaring 3,475 in attendance at Civic Stadium. They had just been treated to a 1-0 shutout of the Boise Hawks at the hands of their hometown team.

After last night's thrilling game-ending homer off the bat of Mike Epping, the Ems had the difficult task of matching that, and they didn't disappoint, as the pitching staff turned in a quick, exciting game of their own variety that was completed in just over two hours.

Orlando Lara, Jackson Quezada, Ernesto Frieri, and Valdez needed just one run from their offense, as they each took their turn in the shutout by scattering six hits and striking out nine batters. Lara, 2-0, picked up the win for the Emeralds (24-21) by pitching five strong innings, striking out five and giving up only four hits.

"The pitchers were outstanding," said manager Doug Dascenzo. "The got in a couple of jams, but they beared down and made some good pitches and it was just a terrific job by them tonight."

Catcher Luany Sanchez continued his hot hitting against Boise pitching by doubling down the third base line with Craig Cooper on third, in the bottom of the fifth to plate the only run of the affair. Sanchez is 9-for-16 with two home runs and three doubles in four games against the Hawks.

Boise (Cubs) had a hit in each of the first three innings with one out or less, but failed to capitalize, as Lara got help from the defense behind him and was able to stifle Boise's bid for an early lead.

In the top of the fourth, a two out double by Lewis almost paid off, though, when Brian Lauderdale mishandled a grounder hit to him by the next batter, Elvin Puello. The ball hit off Lauderdale's glove and scooted between his legs and into shallow center field. Lewis didn't hesitate as he rounded third and headed for home. But, Lauderdale recovered quickly and made a strong throw to Sanchez, who made the tag in time for the third out of the inning.

After retiring the first 12 batters he faced in order, Jose Pina was touched up in the fifth inning when Craig Cooper led off with a double. The pitch before, Pina had thrown a ball up and in on Cooper that brushed him back out of the batters box. Cooper retaliated by scorching the next pitch into the left-center field gap that went all the way to the wall. Cooper then tagged and advanced to third when Chad Huffman hit a ball deep to right field. Sanchez' eventual game-winning double came next, as Pina was lifted two batters later for relief pitcher Alessandro Maestri. After reaching third on a wild pitch, Sanchez was left stranded after Maestri got Lauderdale to fly out to center to end the threat.

"I was looking for a pitch up," Sanchez revealed. "He threw my pitch."

Pina was tagged with a tough loss, as he went four and two thirds innings and allowed only one run and three hits. Maestri would shut down the Emeralds the rest of the way, giving up no runs and two hits in the final 3.2 innings.

Quezada faced the minimum in both innings he pitched, the sixth and seventh, when he entered the game in relief of Lara. He allowed one hit to Lewis, but Sanchez promptly threw him out trying to steal second.

Frieri, who picked up the win for the Emeralds the night before in the 12 inning thriller against the Hawks, struggled at first when he entered the game in the eighth. He allowed runners to get on second and third with only one out when he hit Pedro Lopez and gave up a double to Matthew Camp. But, he came back to form by striking out Mario Mercedes, who had been hitting .359 since being promoted in the farm system 19 games ago, and getting Josh Lansford to pop out to Sanchez in foul territory to end the inning, much to the delight of the Emerald fans.

Frieri, who had high expectations after a stellar season last year, has been plagued by an nagging injury on the middle finger of his pitching hand, which hasn't allowed him to pitch as much as he'd like. He now uses a fake fingernail, which has helped him recently. When asked how he felt about the game, he was excited about the win.

"I like pitching in those sort of situation," said Frieri. "When you pitch in the professionals, you have to use everything to pitch well and to do your job. I feel like I'm doing a good job."

Valdez came on to close it down in the ninth, sitting down the Boise batters in order, and ending the game with a flourish on the strikeout that capped off the night for the players and their fans.

The Emeralds increased their record to a shaky 3-8 in games decided by one run. The shutout was the first for the Emeralds since August 30, 2004, ending a streak of 127 games with out one. It was also the first 1-0 victory for the Ems since July of 2003, when they beat the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The third game of the five-game set with Boise continues tomorrow night at 7:05 pm, with Aaron Breit starting for the Emeralds against Michael Billek for Boise. Breit is 0-1 on the season with a 3.60 ERA.

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