Emeralds clutch hitting prevails

Matt Antonelli and Jesus Lopez

EUGENE– The Tri-City Dust Devils (28-26) had fourteen hits, six of them doubles, runners in scoring position in all but two inning and took the extra base in every opportunity. But they couldn't put the notch in the win column Sunday against the Eugene Emeralds' (30-24) nine hits, because the Emeralds did it when it counted in the 6-4 win.

Padres first round pick, Matt Antonelli went 3-for-4, with a double and two key runs batted in at the plate and showed off his glove work in the field to lead the way.

With the wind blowing straight out for the Sunday day game in Eugene, the ball was flying all over the park for the Emeralds and their opponent, the Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies). The Emeralds were looking to rebound from a disappointing loss the night before and continue with their strong August record. Their league best 8-4 record during the month has put the Emeralds in second place, tied with Vancouver, in the Northwest League, and in the hunt for a league title.

In all but one inning he pitched, starter Stephen Faris let runners get in scoring position but was able to escape unscathed, for the most part. The Dust Devil bats hit him hard, giving up seven hits and two runs in his five-plus innings of work. But came away with a no-decision for his effort because of several lead changes throughout the affair.

Shortstop Daniel Mayora led off the second inning against Faris with a double and tagged to advance to third one batter later. Faris was able to escape the inning with only one run scoring thanks to Matt Antonelli, who made a diving play on a ball hit down the line by Victor Ferrante and gunned him out at first base. Mayora scored on the play. The next batter was also put out when Antonelli made a nice running scoop and throw on a swinging bunt.

Kody Valverde got things going for the Emeralds in the third by blasting an 0-and-1 pitch off the red Knecht's Auto Parts sign in deep left-center field to tie the game up at one.

They took a 2-1 lead the next inning when Craig Cooper hit his 13th double of the season toscored Antonelli from first base; Antonelli had reached on a line drive single. Cooper's double, which hit off the centerfield wall 400 feet from home plate, tied him for fourth in the Northwest League in doubles with teammate Mike Epping.

The Dust Devils continued to hit the ball well and fight for a win. Michael McKenry, the Devils catcher, reached base for the third time in the game by leading off the sixth with a walk. The next batter, Jeff Kindel, singled into left, and McKenry, running hard all the way, went all the way to third base.

Nick Tucci, who rejoined the Emeralds on August 10th from Peoria, replaced Faris after the hit and gave up a single to Mayora, plating McKenry to tie the game at 2-2.

The inning continued, after a base running blunder by Tri-City led to Kindel being tagged out at third and put Mayora at second with one out. Berglund hit a deep fly to Epping in center. After making the catch, he took too much time getting the ball to his cutoff man, Tom King, and Mayora, tagging from second, aggressively headed for home and beat the play at the plate to take the 3-2 lead.

The Emeralds came back in their half of the sixth when Manager Doug Dascenzo put the hit-and-run on with Antonelli up to bat and Epping on first. It paid off, as Antonelli ripped a double to left-center that plated Epping to tie the game at 3-3.

In the eighth, two doubles off Ernesto Frieri led to a run and another lead change. The first of the two doubles, was Mayora's second of the game. It was an infield chopper that Jesus Lopez couldn't come up with. The ball dribbled out into short left, allowing Mayora to go to second and later score on Ferrante's double off the wall in left.

Looking to redeem himself, Lopez singled to lead off the bottom half. After reaching second base on a passed ball, he moved to third when Epping singled to left. With runners on the corners, Antonelli answered the call again by looping a single into center to tie the game up again. It was Antonelli's second game-tying RBI of the contest.

"I felt good today," said Antonelli about his game. "[I] felt pretty decent last night, just didn't get so many hits. But, I carried it in today and squared up on a couple more balls and some fell in there for me, so it was a good day."

With the game tied at four, the Emeralds looked to close the door on the Dust Devils in the inning. Cooper was hit in the back to load the bases for Chad Huffman. He hit a ground ball to shortstop that looked to be the start of a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. But, at the last second, fate and the baseball gods took control of the game as the ball took a wicked hop over Mayora's head and into left field, plating the two eventual winning runs.

R.J. Rodriguez pitched the ninth, picking up his seventh save of the season, retiring the distraught Dust Devil batters in order. Ernesto Frieri improved his record to 3-2 with the win after pitching 1.1 innings, giving up two hits and a run.

"It's definitely a big win for us. There were a lot of hits in the game, but the key thing is we got our hits when we really needed them, with guys on base," said Antonelli.

With the win, the Emeralds remain in second place seven games back of Salem-Keiser. With twenty-two games remaining in the season, the league title is in reach of the Emeralds and the players have their eyes set on just that.

"No question, we're having a great time," said Huffman. "In the locker room, coming out to the park, it's been fun. We're going to try and put some more wins together, hopefully get a few games up on Salem for when we play them the last six games of the season. Have a chance to take the championship."

They continue their series with the Dust Devils tomorrow with Orlando Lara (2-0, 3.76 ERA) taking the mound for the Emeralds against Andrew Graham (2-0, 2.32 ERA) for Tri-City. Game time is set for 7:05 pm.

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