The Hood River Valley baseball team may have been down, but it was never out against Gresham Thursday.
Cody Walker's first-ever walk-off, game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth inning propelled the No. 5-ranked Eagles to a third consecutive victory in thrilling fashion as the Eagles rallied back for a 7-6 win over the Gophers.
A win appeared unlikely, especially after the Eagles fell behind early and then trailed by four runs late in the game.
The Eagles, guided by third-year coach Eric Harjo, took an initial 1-0 first inning edge by capitalizing on mistakes by the Gophers (0-1), who were playing their first game this year. HRV junior catcher Kyle Beam (1-for-3, single, run scored) reached base after getting hit by a pitch. Beam stole second base and later scored on a Gopher infield throwing error to put the Eagles on the scoreboard.
"We haven't shown the ability to overpower teams yet, but we're improving with every game and we're excited about our chance for having a very successful season," said Harjo. "We're looking forward to the beginning of the Columbia River Conference schedule (April 13 vs. Pendleton) and I think we'll be a contender for the league title.
"Pendleton (defending CRC champ) is a strong team and it's a tough league. There won't be any easy wins and I know that everyone understands that."
HRV junior starting pitcher Ty Bofferding (strikeout, two walks, five hits allowed) had a strong four-inning performance on the mound, while holding the Gophers hitless through the first two innings as HRV continued leading 1-0 after two innings.
Aided by two HRV errors, Gresham scored four runs in the third to take a 4-1 lead. HRV narrowed the margin in the bottom half of the frame. Senior second baseman Ryan Colesar (2-for-3, two singles, two runs scored) singled, he ran to second on a passed ball and later scored on a wild pitch, making it 4-2 after three.
Two scoreless innings followed as Eagle outfielders Alex Jimenez, Luke Kopecky and Gabi Nuño each made key defensive plays in snagging sharply hit fly balls to help thwart Gresham's offense.
Nuño, a senior right fielder, made a spectacular catch while diving forward for a key defensive play in the fifth. Walker (six strikeouts, two walks, three hits allowed) relieved Bofferding in the fifth and struck out two as the score remained 4-2 after five innings.
Gresham extended its lead in the sixth with a two-out rally, while also taking advantage of an Eagle infield throwing error and scoring twice to go ahead 6-2.
The Eagles responded in the bottom of the frame when senior third baseman Lucia Alaniz (2-for-2, two RBIs, two doubles, two walks) ignited a rally with a leadoff double as he belted a deep line drive with a ball rolling all the way to the 333-foot left field fence.
"I felt a little nervous when we were down by four, but I felt confident that Cody would do a good job on the mound," said Alaniz. "Everyone helped contribute to the offense with some good at-bats and I really wasn't going to pass up any good pitches at the plate."
Junior first baseman Nick Weekly (1-for-3), who had a rock-solid defensive effort with eight putouts of base runners, followed with a single and junior Luke Kopecky drew a walk, loading the bases. Alaniz scored on a wild pitch and substitute Oscar Anaya's RBI sacrifice groundout at first drove in Weekly from third trimming the margin to 6-4.
"We're a much stronger team than we were last year," said Alaniz. "We're a good team; we deserve to be highly ranked and we'll definitely have a good chance to win league this year."
The Gophers went down in order in the seventh when Walker struck out the first two batters and he induced a groundout as the Eagle comeback continued in the bottom of the frame. Walker overpowered Gresham hitters while throwing an 83 mph fastball, along with throwing a curveball/knuckleball combination, too.
"My teammates did a great job and we're just playing with a high confidence level right now," said Walker. "It was pretty amazing to come back from a four-run deficit. We all played our hearts out and we were focusing on getting the win.
"They (Gresham) came out and played hard and wanted to win just as badly as we did. I think we had little bit of an advantage since we've played some games and it was their first contest."
Colesar reached base on an error and Beam followed with a single. Alaniz then smashed a ball deep to the 400-foot center field fence for a two-run double, knotting it 6-6 and sending the contest to extra innings.
A Walker strikeout and two put-outs of runners at first put HRV into position to win it in the eighth. Senior Julian Bridgeman drew a leadoff walk and two batters later, Nuno reached on an error to set the plate for Walker's heroics. Walker walloped a ball deep to center, driving home Bridgeman for the game-winning run.
HRV was hoping to extend its streak to four when they met the Barlow Bruins (1-1) in a 4:30 p.m. home contest Friday. Their next game is a 12:30 p.m. matchup Monday versus the defending Class 4A champion, Astoria Fishermen, at Hillsboro Stadium. The Eagles are one of eight teams playing in the three-day Glencoe Spring Break Tournament in Hillsboro.
HRV, which finished 11-15 last year, advanced to the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs before losing to 12-5 to the West Albany Bulldogs. Harjo says he expects the Eagles to advance much further this year.
"We won't be satisfied with just getting to the playoffs," said Harjo. "We've set team goals, which include winning the league and hosting a couple of playoff games. We're hoping to advance to the semifinals and maybe even reach the championship game."