Confidence has never been a problem for Central Point’s Dylan Pearce, so there was no question he felt good heading into Tuesday’s Great West League showdown with the Portland Pickles at Harry & David Field.
Even though he had not earned a decision this summer in two previous starts, Pearce believed the third time would be the charm.
And, oh boy, was he correct.
The former Crater High standout scattered four hits and struck out a career-high 10 batters to help shoulder the load as the Medford Rogues shut down Portland for an 8-1 triumph.
Game 2 of the three-game series will be at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at Harry & David Field.
“That’s the Dylan Pearce that we were expecting, it just took him a few starts to get into his groove,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan of the right-hander. “He’s had quality starts the whole time, but we were looking for him to get deeper in the game and keep that pitch count lower in the first part of the game and he really did that.”
“He commanded the zone and had quick innings with not very many pitches,” added Hogan. “He kept the infielders on their toes, had great tempo and showed great leadership and competitiveness out there.”
Pearce was effective in dancing his fastball throughout the strike zone to go with steady off-speed offerings, throwing 66 of his 92 pitches for strikes to set the tone for Medford (8-5).
“I knew that I needed to pound the strike zone and have all my pitches working today in order to be successful,” said Pearce, who is bound for Oregon State in the fall, “and everything just seemed to be working for me. I felt my fastball was pretty electric tonight so I established the whole zone with the fastball, and I think that’s what got them off-guard.”
Pearce faced no more than four batters per inning until squaring off against five batters in the sixth inning. He sat the Pickles (6-7) down in order in the seventh, capped off by his 10th strikeout of the night. His previous high was eight strikeouts.
As the game wore on, Pearce said he only seemed to gain confidence and control.
“When you get in that mood you almost feel like you can throw anything as hard as you can wherever you want and they’re not going to hit it,” he said. “I felt pretty confident tonight that whatever I threw they were going to struggle against.”
It didn’t hurt that Pearce was backed with early offense by his teammates, with Medford taking a 2-0 lead in the second inning and boosting that to 5-0 by the fourth.
“It definitely is good security when you get up on the mound and you’re thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve got something to give but I’m not going to give them anything.’ My team backed me up and I’m really happy to have them on my side.”
Medford got on the board with a flurry in the second inning. Alex Isola walked and Clay Valenzuela-Reece extended his hitting streak to nine games with a one-out single to bring up Josh Berman. After a wild pitch, the former North Medford standout sent a shot into left field for a sacrifice fly that brought home Isola. Valenzuela-Reece scored when catcher Thomas Rudinsky’s throw toward third base went down the left-field line.
The Rogues boosted their lead to 5-0 with three runs in the fourth inning after Isola again walked, Connor Lowrie was hit by a pitch in the helmet and Valenzuela-Reece singled to load the bases. With one out, Jayden Hanna came through with a two-run single through the right side of the infield, and Davis Delorefice followed with an RBI double — extending his hit streak to five games — to close the book on Pickles starter Dustin Redish.
“We didn’t get complacent on the field or at the plate, so that was good to see,” said Hogan. “It kind of just made it easier for us to have that lead and have that tempo with guys pounding the zone and having quality at-bats.”
Medford went up 6-0 in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly RBI by Isola, then Dante Gutierrez added an RBI single to plate Hanna and Johnny DeLaCruz brought home Delorefice in the eighth for the final tally.
Portland finally got on the board in the ninth against Rogues reliever Will Floyd, who walked two batters and hit two batters to plate the Pickles’ lone run.
Valenzuela-Reece finished 3-for-4 with two runs, while Gutierrez was 2-for-5 with one run and one RBI, Hanna 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs and Jake Hellweg 2-for-5, bumping his hitting streak to eight games.
“We are starting to settle in,” said Pearce. “We still have some small things to work on, but I really like this group. We’re scrappy. We’re never out of the game no matter what the score is, so I’m really proud to be a part of this team.”
The Rogues still expect a couple positional players to come on board in the coming weeks, along with eight pitchers to help round out the rotation.
“I love the culture that they’ve created and the family atmosphere and selflessness that they’ve created and just being baseball rats, especially the position players,” Hogan said of his team. “They’re loving the game and playing the game right and playing it hard. I’m feeling good right now, and it will be nice when we get some more toys to play with.”
Redish, Daugherty (4), Muskat (7), Hicks (8) and Rudinsky; Pearce, Evans (8), Floyd (9) and Isola. W — Pearce (1-0). L — Redish (0-2). 2B — P: Lopez, Kinne; M: Delorefice.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry