Advancing to a championship series is never easy, and the Medford Rogues and Portland Pickles shared in that misery deep into the night Wednesday here at Harry & David Field.
Nearby lightning caused a power outage at the ballpark at 9:56 p.m. with two outs and one on in the top of the eighth inning and was followed by a quick but intense rain shower that left even Great West League commissioner Ken Wilson in a quandary.
After some debate on whether the game should be suspended until 6:35 tonight or called as an official contest reverting back to the seventh inning, Wilson never had to make that decision as the lights returned to show the rain had subsided.
Almost as soon as the game looked to be back on track, a car burst into flames and was fully engulfed across from the Harry & David Field parking lot. It was not clear as of press time whether lightning played a factor in the fire but the family was believed to have been able to exit the vehicle before the fire consumed it. Firefighters responded and were able to contain the fire.
All of that meant the game could not be resumed until 10:35 p.m. with the Rogues holding a 12-6 advantage and only a handful of fans remaining on hand to see the game to fruition.
Unlike Tuesday night, however, Medford was able to close the door on the visiting Pickles with a couple of the same pitchers that struggled one night before when Portland rallied from a 10-6 deficit to win 12-10 and force the deciding Game 3 in the playoff series.
Will Floyd got the final out in the eighth inning in support of Connor Konishi, who earned the win with 2⅔ solid innings, and Taylor Frost came on in the ninth to nail down the 12-6 victory with only one walk allowed.
“That’s what baseball is, it’s a laboratory for life,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. “You’re going to get kicked in the face and punched in the mouth and it’s just how you respond. And with these guys, it gives me chills right now how they responded to that.”
There were no big speeches required for the Rogues players, just another shot at redemption.
“With their will to win and their competitiveness, it was just roll the balls out at this point and let them play,” said Hogan, “because they love to play the game and play for each other.”
And because of that, Medford will live to play another day as it earned a spot in the GWL Championship Series in what will be a rematch of last year after the Chico Heat also advanced for the second straight year with a series-deciding 9-3 win over the Lincoln Potters on Wednesday.
Medford (42-21) will travel to Chico (40-23) on Friday for Game 1 of the best-of-three series, then return to Harry & David Field for Game 2 on Saturday and, if necessary, Game 3 on Sunday.
“I’m just happy for these guys to get another chance,” said Hogan, whose team took a 1-0 lead in the championship series before losing the following two games at home.
As has been the case for much of the summer, Clay Valenzuela-Reece got it all started in the first inning with a single and then a one-out error by Portland second baseman Colin Rubino allowed Johnny DeLaCruz to reach safely. Alex Isola was hit by a pitch to load the bases but Portland starter Zach Johnson got a strikeout and had a chance to get out of the frame unscathed until Dante Gutierrez ripped a three-run double to left-center.
Then the floodgates seemingly opened for the Rogues.
Connor Lowrie followed with an RBI single and then Braden Stutzman brought the Medford fans to their feet with an opposite-field two-run home run to left field that made it 6-0.
“That two-out clutch hitting and timely hitting was huge to get us going and give us that six-run spot in the first inning,” said Hogan. “That set the tone and answered back from their six-spot last night in the last inning. You’ve got to love these guys and the way they compete.”
The Rogues kept their foot on the gas in the second inning, scoring three runs on four hits. DeLaCruz and Isola singled before Hellweg slipped an RBI ground-rule double just inside the left field line. After a fielder’s choice with no out registered loaded the bases, Lowrie supplied a two-run single into left field for a 9-0 advantage.
Somewhat lost in the early scoring surge was the starting pitching performance by recent Ashland High graduate Peyton Fuller. The Oregon-bound right-hander struck out five in three hitless innings before finally coming into some trouble in a three-run fourth inning by Portland (32-31) that included all four hits against him. Fuller walked two overall and was supported by a tremendous diving catch in right field by Jake Hellweg.
“Peyton did a great job for us setting the tone and Connor Konishi was outstanding, and both are incoming freshman to be in college,” said Hogan. “For them to grow that much from the beginning of the season to now is huge and they just stepped up for us in a big-time way.”
Hellweg also came through with his second home run of the playoff series and third overall when he blasted a no-doubt home run well over the fence in right field to push his team up 10-3.
The Pickles used RBIs by Matt Starcovic and Tate Budnick to close the gap at 10-5 in the fifth but Gutierrez answered with a two-run single in the seventh for his fourth and fifth RBIs of the contest.
With Wednesday’s effort, the Rogues also got the monkey off their back by earning their first playoff win at home in the program’s five-year history.
Medford advanced to the West Coast League playoffs during its inaugural season in 2013 but lost both games to the Corvallis Knights. The Rogues didn’t make the playoffs again until last summer, when they won the opening game of the inaugural GWL Championship Series on the road at Chico but wound up dropping both home games. They won the opening game at Portland on Sunday to start these playoffs before finally earning their first home playoff win Wednesday to wrap up the best-of-three series.
Johnson, Lester (1), Webster (2), Torres (2), Redish (5), Budnick (7) and Budnick, Mueller (7); Fuller, Evans (4), Konishi (6), Floyd (8), Frost (9) and Isola. W — Konishi. L — Johnson. 2B — P: Starcovic; M: Gutierrez, Hellweg. HR — P: Budnick (1); M: Stutzman (2), Hellweg (3).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry