A 5-0 deficit can be a reason to throw in the towel for some summer baseball teams.
For the Medford Rogues, all that means is a challenge has been thrown down — and historically this program has not been one to back away from a challenge.
Trailing the Portland Pickles by five runs after only 1½ innings, the Rogues didn’t buckle Friday night.
Instead, they simply dialed it up a notch in front of 1,620 fans and 63 dogs on “Bark in the Park Night” at Harry & David Field and put on quite a show in rallying for a 12-5 triumph.
The Rogues (21-8) used an eight-run third inning to springboard to a fifth straight win, extending their lead in the Great West League to 3½ games over second-place Lincoln and five games over Chico. Portland dropped to 13-15.
“One thing about our team that’s pretty special is we’ve got guys that love kicking back,” said Rogues catcher Alex Isola. “Whenever a team scores on us we take pride in the fact that, even if we don’t take a lead that inning, we’ve got to chip away with something. That was our approach right there (in the third inning). We just wanted to score a couple and it ended up being a huge inning.”
“This team has a lot of fight, man, we’ve got some grinders,” added the University of Utah product. “We’ve got a lot of talent but the mentality is also always there. We’re always thinking we can come back, and that’s something special.”
Isola was as big of a catalyst in the comeback as anyone, hitting singles in both of his at-bats in the third. He scored once in the frame and drove in two runs, finishing 3-for-5 with one run and two RBIs while also handling a pitching staff that was pretty locked in save for a second inning that saw the Pickles tally all of their runs.
“On the offensive side we’ve been raking lately,” said Isola, who is batting .333 with 24 RBIs (trailing only teammates Connor Lowrie and Davis Delorefice, who each have 26). “And the pitching is starting to get confident right now and is coming together. When we take care of it on the offensive side, it’s huge when our bullpen can come in like that and just shut it down.”
Medford will look to build on its effort in Game 2 of the series with Portland at 6:35 Saturday at Harry & David. The Rogues, who were the inaugural GWL regular-season champs last year, have now won 18 of their last 22 games.
“It starts with our coaches,” said Isola. “They really teach us to come to work each day knowing you always can get better and you never want to be satisfied. That’s the biggest thing is we want to win every day. We don’t just look into the past and be satisfied with that.”
The past has shown the Rogues to struggle when it came to relief pitching, but that was far from the case Friday. After Brett Walker tossed five innings to start, Medford sent a parade of one-inning pitchers to the mound, and one by one they took care of business. Liam Kent, Malik Evans, Bobby Wood and D.J. Wilson each pitched scoreless innings, with Wood allowing the only hit of the bunch.
Evans delighted the crowd and his teammates by striking out the side in the seventh.
“The bullpen today was really nice,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. “That’s what we’re looking for, the mentality of just pounding the zone and going out there and being competitors and warriors. Coach (Christian Coronado) has done a great job with them and getting them up to par where they need to be. A lot of them are young or coming off injuries, so he’s done a really great job with them and they’re showing it right now.”
Portland capitalized on a tight strike zone in the top of the second inning, scoring five runs on three walks, one hit by pitch, a sacrifice fly, an RBI single by Daniel Lopez and two-run double by Zander Clarke.
Medford answered with a run in the bottom of the second after Jake Hellweg doubled and later scored on a fielder’s choice by Dante Gutierrez.
The third inning, however, was the breakthrough moment for Medford and just kept building and building.
“With this group it never feels like you’re down,” said Hogan. “It could be six runs — whatever it is — and late in the game or early in the game and they don’t press. They just go up there and take quality at-bats. We stung the ball early and just kept with the process and had some success and put some pressure on them. Getting that eight-spot was big.”
Clay Valenzuela-Reece, Isola and Johnny DeLaCruz opened the frame with consecutive singles off Portland starter Donovan Baldocchi to load the bases. Hellweg walked to drive in a run, and an RBI single by Connor Lowrie forced the Pickles to turn to reliever Matt Olstead.
Jayden Hanna and Gutierrez walked to bring the score even at 5-all, then an error on Bryce Tilton’s grounder pushed the Rogues ahead. Isola capped the surge with a two-run single in his second at-bat of the frame.
“I always try to be confident when I come up there, but tonight definitely I saw it well,” said Isola.
Medford tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning when Delorefice singled — extending his hitting streak to nine games — and scored on a wild pitch. Valenzuela-Reece later crossed home after a successful double steal with DeLaCruz.
In the seventh, Delorefice drew a leadoff walk and eventually scored after a fielder’s choice by DeLaCruz for a 12-5 advantage.
Zander Clarke was 2-for-5 with two RBIs and Koty Fallon 2-for-3 with one run to pace Portland.
Baldocchi, Olstead (3), Eppenbach (7) and Budnick; Walker, Kent (6), Evans (7), Wood (8), Wilson (9) and Isola. W — Walker (1-1). L — Baldocchi (0-1). 2B — P: Clarke; M: Hellweg.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry