The Hood River Valley High Eagles baseball team faced the No. 3-ranked team in the state Saturday in a doubleheader matchup versus the Hermiston Bulldogs in which the outcome was crucial to their goal of being a top contender for the Columbia River Conference title.
With that in mind, coach Eric Harjo put his two best throwers on the mound to give the Eagles (3-2 CRC, 10-8 overall) their best chance of winning. It proved to be the perfect game plan as junior pitcher Connor Olson and sophomore hurler Ryan Ward had superlative performances to help lead Hood River to a sweep, winning 6-5 and 3-1 over Hermiston (1-4 CRC, 8-6) Saturday at Hood River Valley’s Traner Field.
“We had both of our aces on the mound today,” said Harjo. “Having the No. 3-ranked team here, we felt it would’ve been nice to get one win and it was great to win the first game. Ryan Ward’s performance (two-hitter) on the mound was just unmatched and he almost threw a no-hitter in helping us win game 2. We’re getting better game-by-game and that’s what our philosphy is. Getting two wins is huge. It helps get us one step closer to our goal of winning the league title.”
The Eagles came out swinging their bats strong at the outset of game 1 while batting around their lineup and sending 10 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. Senior Luke Kopecky ignited an Eagle offensive explosion that included six consecutive batters reaching base.
Kopecky (1-for-4) smashed a line drive to center field for a leadoff single, followed by another line drive to right by Alex Jimenez (3-for-4, double, two singles). Senior catcher Kyle Beam (2-for-4) then smashed a ball all the way to the 345-foot centerfield fence for a two-run double, scoring Kopecky and Jimenez.
After Kellan Duffy (1-for-4, RBI) walked, senior Nick Weekly powered a shot to a centerfield gap, driving home Beam. Senior Ryan Colesar (1-for-3) walked to load the bases and then a sacrifice groundout by Kameron Walker drove in Duffy. Jacob Quintanilla followed when he was hit by a pitch and went to first base. A double steal with Quintanilla sprinting to second and Weekly running home to score gave HRV a 5-0 early lead.
“It was nice to put some runs on the board early,” said Harjo. “We’ve done that a few times this year and we always seem to win whenever we can do that; so getting five in the first was really huge. Luke just kickstarts our offense whenever he gets solid hits at the beginning of the game. It was nice seeing a total team effort, with strong defense and clutch hitting to help us get two wins.”
Hermiston scored two unearned runs in the second. Olson, HRV’s junior starting pitcher, didn’t allow any hits until the third inning, when Hermiston got three hits and scored twice to trim the margin to 5-4. The Eagles went up 6-4 in the fourth, highlighted by Beam’s double to center and Duffy’s RBI single, driving home Beam. A Hermiston homer narrowed the Eagle lead to 6-5 in the fifth.
Weekly relieved Olson in the sixth and immediately struck out two Bulldogs. Jimenez led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, followed by two other baserunners as the Eagles tried to get some insurance runs. Beam reached on a fielder’s choice and Weekly reached on an error, but both were left stranded as it remained 6-5 through six innings.
“I’ve been wanting to pitch, but I don’t do it very often,” said Weekly, HRV’s first baseman. “I had a chance to pitch when the coaches decided to put me in there and it was a good opportunity. We stepped up in the second game and played great defense. Everyone worked hard and played with a high energy level. After beating them, I feel like our team has a good chance of reaching the state playoffs.”
Hermiston threatened to score in the seventh with two runners, but the Eagles came up big defensively to stop the Bulldogs with a sparkling 6-4-3 game-ending double play to preserve the win.
Olson scatterd six hits, walked three and struck out four in five and one-third innings. Weekly struck out three and allowed two hits in one and two-third innings. The Eagles outhit the Bulldogs 9-8.
In the second game, which was a quick (67 minutes) pitchers duel, HRV broke a scoreless tie with a three-run fourth, aided by two Hermiston errors. A Colesar RBI double drove home Duffy, who reached base after getting hit by a pitch from Hermiston starting pitcher Camran Pollick. Weekly (1-for-3, single), who reached on an error, and Colesar both scored on Bulldog errors, giving HRV a 3-0 advantage.
Following two scoreless frames, Ward was throwing a no-hitter after six. Hermiston managed to get a couple of hits in the seventh and scored it’s only run for the final margin.
“I give a lot of credit to my teammates, who made many real good defensive plays and we kept the ball on the ground for the most part,” said Ward, who threw a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball and curveball to keep Hermiston hitters off balance.
“It feels great getting a sweep. It’s nice to get back into the win column after losing a couple to Pendleton. Beating the No. 3-ranked team in the state twice is great.”