Epping accounts for only hits in loss

Mike Epping

Eugene-- Add together poor pitching, abysmal defense and a lack of timely hitting and what do you get? On Tuesday, that combination got the Emeralds a loss to this year's Northwest League West division-champion Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

The away team drew blood in the top of the first when leadoff man Emmanuel Burriss, who had doubled to open the frame, scored on a wild pitch by Eugene starter Aaron Breit. Breit recovered quickly and worked around the first of four Eugene errors to hold the Volcanoes to just the one run.

Salem-Keizer struck for two more runs in the third inning, courtesy once again of poor Emeralds' glovework.

Burriss started the inning with a triple into the right-field corner and came home when catcher Matt Stocco's pickoff attempt bounded into left-field. Two batters later, right-fielder Matt Weston reached on a fielder's choice. Breit's wild throw to first moved Weston to third and his second wild pitch of the evening allowed him to trot home with the game's third run.

Now staked to a three-run lead, Salem-Keizer righty Kevin Pucetas went to work.

The San Francisco Giants' 17th-round selection in this year's draft allowed just one earned run on two hits and a pair of walks over his six innings of work while fanning three Emeralds' hitters. Only five of the 23 men Eugene sent to the plate reached base against Pucetas, with Mike Epping being the only Emerald to accomplish the feat twice.

"He was throwing a lot of strikes and he had his off-speed pitches. His curveball's pretty slow so he was throwing that for strikes and his fastball, he was mixing it in and out. When you're doing that, you know you're going to be successful," Epping said ( from Epping) of his team's inability to break through against Pucetas.

Epping's hustle in the sixth inning helped the Ems notch both of their runs.

After leadoff man Jodam Rivera worked a walk, Epping squibbed a ball to the right of the mound. Pucetas pounced and grabbed the ball quickly, but Epping's speed caused him to rush the throw and it skidded under Ryan Rohlinger's glove and down the right-field line. Epping advanced to third on the play and Rivera tapped home plate for Eugene's first tally.

Eugene's center-fielder scored two pitches later when Pucetas uncorked another wild throw, this one to a hitter, permitting him to jog home with Eugene's second and final run.

David Newton and Adam Paul combined to hold Eugene hitless over the final three innings.

With one game remaining in the season, and despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the Emeralds will try on Wednesday to send the 2006 season out on a sweet note.

"We've been out of the playoff picture for about a week now, but as you can see, we're still winning. We're not going down. We want to finish strong. People say it doesn't matter or it doesn't mean anything, but it means a lot to us," a confident Epping stated.

To accomplish that task, Eugene will send righty Drew Miller to the hill. Miller is 2-1 on the campaign with a 3.78 earned run average. The native of Ada, Okla. has looked strong over his last two outings, striking out nine and walking only one over 11 impressive innings of baseball. Salem-Keizer will counter with 4-1 southpaw Ben Snyder. Snyder carries a 3.73 ERA and an impressive ration of 53 strikeouts to just 17 walks into Wednesday's action. Game time is 7:05 p.m.

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