Oiler boys chase shot at playoffs

Hood River’s Carson Oil-sponsored Oilers baseball team started its home Firecracker Tournament with a bang Friday in the form of a 9-2 win over David Douglas. Following the impressive opening victory, however, the Oilers were unable to build additional momentum in the seven-team, July 5-7 contest at Hood River Valley High School’s Traner Field.

Despite dropping four of five games on the weekend, Oiler coaches Adam Howell and Don Lariza have reasons to be optimistic. All of them were nonleague, so the outcomes have no effect on the Oregon Junior State Baseball Association Division 1 standings. With a 5-4 record, the Oilers remain a top contender among the 11 Portland-area squads vying for the league’s three summer league playoff spots.

“It was nice to start the tournament with a win,” said Howell, the Oilers’ fourth-year coach. “Whenever you host an event like this, obviously you hope to win it. After playing five games in three days, we were just mentally fatigued and we were unable to pull through and get a win Sunday.”

The Oilers can take a big step toward qualifying for the postseason with five final regular season games, all at home, including two this week (6 p.m. Tuesday vs. Horizon Christian of Tualatin and 6 p.m. Thursday vs. Wilson).

“Our goal is to reach the playoffs so that we can continue developing our players by competing in baseball until the end of summer,” said Howell. “Finishing in the top three of league would certainly represent a successful summer program.”

The Oilers displayed a potent offense versus David Douglas while out-hitting their opponent 12-3 in a come-from-behind win in the 9 a.m. contest. Trailing 2-0, the Oilers erupted for five runs in the third inning, highlighted by Ryan Ward’s go-ahead, two-run single to make it 3-2.

The Oilers extended it to 5-2 and then tacked on three in the fourth and one in the fifth for the final 9-2 margin. Starting pitcher Kam Walker (eight strikeouts, walk) threw the first five innings on the mound and he combined with reliever Dallas Buckley (three strikeouts) on the sparkling three-hitter.

Playing in their second contest Friday night at 7, the Oilers lost 18-0 to a powerhouse Perth Heat squad from Perth, Australia. The Perth Heat (23-3) outscored five opponents by a total of 48-5, including a 3-2 win over Southridge in Sunday’s championship game. Perth, guided by coach Rod Drew, started a U.S. tour June 15 while playing games in Oregon, Nevada and California and they’ll return home July 23.

“They (Australia) have a really solid ball club with kids that are a little older than our guys,” said Howell. “In baseball, like other sports, whenever you have more experienced players, it really makes a big difference.”

On Saturday, the Oilers lost 13-5 to the Salem Senators (13-10) and 8-0 to Southridge. In their final game Sunday versus Madison (13-11), the Oilers came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the lead. Patrick Harvey (1-for-3) and Walker (1-for-3) each connected with RBI singles in the bottom of the first inning. Ward’s sacrifice groundout RBI drove home Harvey for a go-ahead run, putting the Oilers up 3-2.

Madison knotted it 3-3 in the second and then added two in the third for a 5-3 edge. The last four frames were scoreless, but there were some key Oiler highlights. Starting pitcher Alix Jimenez allowed just two hits and struck out six in three and two-third innings on the mound. Middle reliever Chase Lariza (Don Lariza’s son) worked two and one-third innings and allowed just two hits, a walk and no runs.

“It’s always tough having your dad as your coach, but it’s also lots of fun too,” said Chase Lariza, an incoming HRVHS sophomore. “I think he has a tendency to push me a little harder than the other players. He’s been coaching me since I was 5 years old, so he knows what I’m capable of doing out on the field.”

In the sixth, the Oilers had a defensive gem worthy of ESPN‘s highlight reel with a rarely seen triple play. Madison had baserunners on first and second base and then they attempted a double steal. Walker, playing shortstop, caught a line drive then quickly tossed the ball to Brooks Maddy for a putout at second base. Maddy then turned and fired a ball to Connor Olson for a putout at first.

“That’s probably one of the rarest plays in baseball and you don’t see it very often,” said Howell. “It’s the first one I’ve seen in my four-year coaching career at Hood River Valley High. The triple play is one of those things where you have to be in the right place at the right time, and have a little luck too, and it sure was exciting to see.”

Trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Walker went to the mound and struck out three batters to help prevent any further Madison runs, while helping his team to at least have a chance for a comeback. The Oilers were unable to generate any offense though at the conclusion of the game.

“We’re working on getting better, so we’re doing all right and we’re actually playing pretty good baseball,” said Walker, an incoming HRV junior. “We just need to focus on playing well in the remaining league games. Hopefully, we’ll get a few more wins and qualify for the playoffs. We’re having lots of fun and I’m just trying to help our team improve this summer so that we’ll have a better team next year.”

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