Eugene falters in Vancouver, best up next

Mike Epping

With the league's hottest team, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, coming to town to begin a six-game home-and-home series, the Eugene Emeralds had hoped their road trip to Vancouver for a three-game series against the Canadians would have been a little more encouraging.

But, the Emeralds allowed 28 hits in the final two games of the series and lost both despite claiming a lopsided 12-6 victory in the first game. Eugene fell 6-5 in game two and 10-4 in the final game.

Centerfielder Mike Epping finished the series 5-for-13 with four runs scored and extended his league-leading hitting streak to 11 games – the same number of games he's appeared in this season. Third baseman David Freese was just as impressive, hitting 3-for-12 with four RBIs and raising his season total in that category to a league-leading 16.

But Eugene's pitching staff gave up 37 hits in the three games. Vancouver was led by right fielder Matthew Sulentic, who finished an impressive series for the Canadians by hitting 8-for-15 with five runs scored and five RBIs.

Eugene's record now stands at 7-6, last place in the West division. Salem-Keizer, which recently won 2-of-3 against second-place Everett, sits atop the division and the entire league with an 11-2 record. It's the franchise's hottest start and they've done it with a combination of solid hitting and pitching.

As of Sunday, the Volcanoes led the league with a team batting average of .289, slightly ahead of Eugene at .281. Salem-Keizer is led by first baseman Will Thompson, who leads the league with a .420 batting average including 21 hits, two homeruns and 12 RBIs.

The Volcanoes pitching staff ranks third in the league with a 2.79 ERA. They've surrendered 94 hits and a league-low 32 walks. Adam Cowart and Craig Whitaker highlight the staff. Cowart is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 11 innings. He's only given up two hits. Whitaker has been almost as impressive. He is also 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings of work.

"We're definitely looking forward to it," Epping said of the upcoming series against Salem-Keizer, which begins Sunday. "They've started out hot and have the best record so we're definitely looking forward to playing them."

But if the Emeralds are to make it a competitive series against Salem-Keizer, they must first shake off a disappointing series against the Canadians. It was a series that started out with promise. Not even a flat tire on the night of the Emeralds long road trip was going to cool their bats in game one as the Emeralds pounded out 12 hits and 12 runs, one night after crushing Spokane 17-4 at home behind 18 total hits.

"Like people say, hitting is contagious," Epping said. "We just carried it over to the next day even though (we) went through (a) long road trip."

Epping was one of seven Emeralds' batters to record a hit in that game. Five players recorded multiple hits, led by catcher Luany Sanchez's two hits and five RBI's. Eugene posted five runs in the first inning and never looked back.

Wade Leblanc picked up his first win by pitching one inning, allowing no runs and no hits and striking out one. Starter Geoff Vandel lasted three innings. He gave up six hits and four earned runs. Justin Mattison recorded his third save.

The second game of the series saw a back-and-fourth struggle. The Emeralds got on the board first with one run in the first inning. The Canadians responded with one run in their frame before the Emeralds tacked on two more runs in the third. But Vancouver countered to tie the game in the fourth and each team scored one in the final four innings to send the game into extras where both again scored one run in the tenth before the Canadians recorded the victory when Sulentic delivered in RBI single in the 11th inning.

"It was just one of those games that goes back and fourth, and it seems like every time you put a run on the board, so does the other team," Epping said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes."

It was the third time in this young season that the Emeralds have lost by two runs or less.

"It's still early in the season. The balls will start falling our way," Epping said. "It's a game of averages, it's bound to happen."

Epping finished 2-for-6 in the second game and first round selection, Matt Antonelli, led the way for Eugene. He was 3-for-5 with three runs scored.

Two Emeralds pitchers, Andrew Underwood and Ernesto Frieri, had blown saves. Frieri recorded the loss after pitching 1.2 innings, giving up four hits and two runs.

Orlando Lara started the game and gave up five hits and three runs in 3.2 innings.

The effects of the close loss seemed evident in the series finale as Vancouver quickly jumped out to a 7-1 lead after two innings before picking up the 10-4 victory. The Emeralds committed four errors in the game and allowed 13 hits from the Canadians while recording only five of their own.

Epping led Eugene with two hits on the night and Freese drove in two runs with a one-out double. Brooks Dunn picked up the loss. He lasted three innings and gave up seven runs, six of them earned. He combined with three other pitchers for the night. Aaron Breit was the most impressive. He was the lone pitcher who didn't give up a run after working two innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

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