Slow starts and fast finishes have been a staple of the Medford Rogues' summer campaign, but neither factor has exactly been a recipe for success thus far.
The Rogues again dug themselves a hole that simply proved too deep to come out of Saturday night in the first of six straight West Coast League games at Harry & David Field.
RECAP: Walla Walla opens a 5-0 lead and withstands a late rally by Medford to claim the opener of a three-game West Coast League series.
up next: Walla Walla at Medford, 5:05 tonight at Harry & David Field.
Walla Walla jumped right on Medford early for a 5-0 advantage and then withstood a late rally to secure a 6-4 victory in front of a franchise-best crowd of 2,832 on a night sponsored by the Southern Oregon Media Group, which includes the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings. The first 500 attendees received souvenir mini bats.
From walks to wild pitches and passed balls, the Rogues were too hospitable early on to the visiting Sweets in their first game since returning from a six-game road trip to Washington and British Columbia. Walla Walla (3-4) scored four runs on only three hits over the first two innings, and went up 5-0 in the top of the third without earning a single hit.
"We gave up seven free bases in the first three innings and that was it," said Medford manager Josh Hogan. "We shot ourselves right in the foot just like I said we can't do and dug ourselves a huge hole."
"We can't keep beating ourselves," added Hogan. "We haven't had a team just outright outplay us at the game of baseball. I'd be fine with a loss like this if that happened, but when we keep giving up all these free bases ... it's not good baseball and it's frustrating to watch."
The Rogues (4-6) scored their first run in the bottom of the third inning when third baseman Caleb Palensky plated Matt Taylor with a single. Taylor had reached on an error by Walla Walla third baseman Jared Gonzales, who got turned around on a hard hit ball down the line, and advanced to second when Matt Page drew a walk.
Four scoreless innings followed, with Walla Walla starting pitcher Sean Silva of USC scattering six hits with no earned runs in his six innings while Medford's Dillon Keene came on in relief of Jake Lessel in the third inning and did well to give his team a fighting chance at a comeback. Keene allowed only two hits and two runs — one earned — in six solid innings of relief. Lessel was tagged with four earned runs on four hits in his two innings after entering the game with a 2.45 ERA.
"He just got way down in counts and when you get down early you've got to serve 'em cookies," said Hogan of Lessel's outing, "and they're good hitters, they took advantage of that."
Walla Walla tacked on a key run in the top of the eighth inning on a breakdown at the plate. With two outs and Gonzales on third base, Keene got UCLA commit Luke Persico to swing for strike three on a low pitch that was blocked in the dirt by catcher Nico Pacheco. The incoming Cal State Fullerton freshman glanced at Gonzales, then paused again before throwing late to Page at first base as Persico beat out the throw and Gonzales broke home for a 6-1 lead. Hogan tried to argue that Persico had run out of the basepaths to block Pacheco's throwing lane but to no avail.
Whatever frustrations the Rogues may have felt by the unusual turn of events they finally took out on the Sweets in the bottom half of the inning, scoring three times to pull within 6-4.
"A few things fell for us in that inning and we were able to get this going and get a little momentum on our side," said Hogan. "Offense wasn't the problem today, we were stinging the baseball, we just hit it right to them in some spots. They finally started to fall in the eighth inning but it was a little bit too late there."
Taylor got things started by drawing a walk against reliever Taylor Jones, then Page followed with a single. Caleb Palensky's single scored Taylor, who avoided a tag attempt at the plate, and then Page scored on a balk by Jones to make it 6-3 and put an end to the reliever's night.
Gonzaga's Sean-Luke Brija induced a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Quentin Urban that plated Palensky for the first out and then struck out Ryan Degner for the second. After a walk to Daniel McNabb, Brija got out of the jam with a strikeout of incoming Oregon freshman A.J. Balta.
Any hopes for another late-inning miracle by Medford fell flat in the ninth as Brija heated right back up and struck out two of the final three batters.
Taylor finished 2-for-4 with two runs, Palensky was 2-for-4 with one run and one RBI and Pacheco went 3-for-4 to pace the Rogues, who underwent a major revamping of the roster with 15 newcomers in uniform Saturday.
After the game, Page said his hope is that Medford will be able to build on the approach taken in the eighth inning and use that to get started earlier when the teams return to the field at 5:05 tonight.
"It was just basically a fighter's mentality in the batter's box," the NAIA player of the year from Oklahoma Baptist said of the outburst. "We need to do that in every at-bat and I think we'll be all right."
"It's just one or two things that hurt us in every game," added Page. "Free bases don't help us and we're not hitting that well with runners in scoring position. When we come together we'll be all right, we just need to finally break through in one of these games and basically play like every game's our last game and stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
WALLA WALLA MEDFORD
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Lindell lf 5 2 3 1 Smith lf 3 0 0 0
Skrbec ss 4 0 1 1 McNabb ph-lf 1 0 0 0
Miroglio c 4 0 0 1 Balta 2b 5 0 0 0
Paulson rf 2 1 0 0 George rf 5 0 0 0
Mendenhall 1b 5 0 1 0 Taylor dh 4 2 2 0
Gonzales 3b 5 1 1 1 Page 1b 4 1 1 0
Helton dh 4 0 0 0 Palensky 3b 4 1 2 1
Persico cf 3 1 0 0 Pacheco c 4 0 3 0
Silva 2b 3 1 1 0 Newton pr 0 0 0 0
Cornish c 0 0 0 0
Weiss ss 3 0 1 0
Urban ph 0 0 0 1
Wynant ss 0 0 0 0
Degner cf 2 0 0 0
Totals 35 6 7 4 Totals 35 4 9 2
Walla Walla 131 000 010 —6
Medford 001 000 030 —4
2B—K.Lindell 2 (4). RBI-K.Lindell (4), J.Skrbec (9), D.Miroglio (2), J.Gonzales (3), C.Palensky (7), Q.Urban (3). HP—M.Paulson (2), R.Degner 2 (2). SF—J.Skrbec (1), Q.Urban (2). SB—L.Persico (1), D.McNabb (1). CS—N.Pacheco (1). E—J.Gonzales (1), N.Pacheco (1), D.Keene (2). LOB—Walla Walla 9, Medford 10. DP—S. Silva(2B)-J. Skrbec(SS)-M. Mendenhall(1B)-S. Silva(P).
IP H R ER BB SO
S. Silva, W (1-0) 6 6 1 0 1 2
T. Jones 1 3 3 3 1 2
S. Brija, S 2 0 0 0 1 4
J. Lessel, L (1-1) 2 4 4 4 2 1
D. Keene 6 2 2 1 2 3
M. Acker 1 1 0 0 1 1
HBP—S. Silva (R. Degner), T. Jones (R. Degner), D. Keene (M. Paulson). WP—S.Silva (1), J.Lessel (2), D.Keene (3). PB—N.Pacheco. Umpires—Home, Scott Rice First, Alex Chavez Third, Rick Landis. T—3:02. A—2832.