By the end of the fourth inning Monday, the Hood River Valley baseball team looked to be on cruise control.
Senior pitcher Ryan Pratt had staked the Eagles to a 2-1 lead over La Salle, and the bats were just starting to heat up.
But, just when the Eagles thought they could shift into auto pilot, the game went careening out of control.
Two errors, a wild pitch, a couple misplayed balls and a hit batsman in the fifth inning allowed the Falcons to score four runs to take a 5-2 lead.
And that was before the wheels really came off.
Sloppy defense and a handful of wild pitches by reliever Jarrod Fogle in the top of the seventh allowed La Salle to score five more runs on their way to a 10-3 win.
“I don’t know what to say,” HRV coach Gerry Flink said. “We’re a better team than them. The problem was that we started thinking about the mistakes and it snowballed.”
The Eagles (3-6) posted a courtesy run in the bottom of the seventh, but the damage had already been done.
“Today’s loss wasn’t a physical thing. It was mental,” Flink said. “This wasn’t the same team we saw last Friday (against Gladstone). But we have to move on.”
Flink and the Eagles would much rather walk away from their home field the way they did last Friday — with a 6-4, come-from-behind win.
After falling behind 4-1 through four innings, HRV slowly chipped away and went on to score four runs in the bottom of the sixth to preserve the win for Heath Goin.
The junior pitcher struck out 11 while going the distance on Friday, and couldn’t have been any more happy with his team’s effort.
“It’s awesome when your offense can do that for you,” he said. “We finally started hitting the ball after being in a slump the past couple weeks.
“When you’re down 4-1 and can come back late in the game like that, it will do wonders for a team’s confidence,” he said.
Goin couldn’t say enough about the Eagle bats, which pounded out eight hits to give HRV just its second win in six games.
“We seem to hit the ball well in Oregon, but not so well outside the state,” Goin said in reference to the team’s 1-4 Spring Break trip to Arizona.
Goin also spoke highly of his defense, which has been erratic at times over the season’s first nine games.
“We’ve really cut down a lot on the errors this year,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in these guys, and if we can play this way on defense every game, we’re going to be right in there.”
However, while HRV raised the bar on defense Friday, the Gladiators struggled mightily. A total of eight errors spoiled a solid five-and-two-thirds innings by starter Adam Hartlaub, who gave up just four hits and no walks before leaving with a 4-2 lead.
Hartlaub led off the sixth inning by hitting Goin in the helmet and then giving up a single to catcher Cam Lucas. Pinch hitter Tony Hull sacrificed Goin and pinch runner Kevin Cassidy over, which set up a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Danny Newton.
Newton was safe at first and Goin scored on the play, setting up junior shortstop Pete Dills’ infield single that tied the game at four.
After a Kyle Maurer strikeout, Fogle stepped in and delivered a single to left which scored Newton. Dills also scored on a misplay by the leftfielder, giving HRV a 6-4 lead. Goin finished it off in the top of the seventh with two more K’s.