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Poised Verdugo tames Timberjacks

Pitching in front of crowds can be a hair-raising experience, but forJason Verdugo Northwest League crowds are small potatoes.

Verdugo, a one-time quarterback at Arizona State University who has playedin front of crowds in excess of 90,000, tossed seven shutout innings tohelp the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes trim the Southern Oregon Timberjacks 4-2at Miles Field on Saturday night.

The loss keeps Southern Oregon one game in back of division-leading Port-landin the standings. A win would have moved the Timberjacks into a first placetie due to Portland's 10-3 loss to Eugene Saturday night.

Verdugo muddled through his first two innings before coming alive inthe third after Southern Oregon's Eddie Lara lined a ball off Verdugo'sleg.

It really helped me, said Verdugo, who struck out nine whileimproving his record to 2-5.

It got my adrenaline going and it got me focused. Sometimes thatcan fire up the other team and I didn't want the momentum to change.

After the wake-up call, Verdugo never allowed a Southern Oregon runnerpast second base.

We really needed some people to step up and he did that for us,Salem-Keizer manager Shane Turner said of Verdugo. He really threwwell tonight. He was topping out on the radar gun at 93 mph.

Not to be outdone by Verdugo was Timberjacks' starter Andy Kimball, whostruck out nine in four innings of two-hit work. However, he left the contesttrailing 2-0.

We had two throwing errors that cost us two runs, SouthernOregon manager John Kuehl said. Other than that, our pitchers reallybattled.

With their bats being quieted by Kimball in the early going, the Volcanoesused their speed to force the issue.

In the first inning, Northwest League steals leader Mike Byas stole thirdand scored when the throw from Timberjacks' catcher Jose Figueroa sailedinto left field.

In the second inning, right fielder Brett Casper stole second and laterscored when David Kenna's ground ball kangarooed off first base over NicolasSosa's head into right field.

All told, the Volcanoes swiped five bases on the night.

Our speed is one of our strengths, Turner said. Wejust tried to take advantage of their mistakes.

Salem-Keizer upped its lead to 3-0 in the fourth inning when Kenna struckout and the ball got away from Figueroa. Figueroa threw wildly to firsttrying to get the out, allowing Carlos Valderrama to score.

Southern Oregon looked poised to make another one of its late-inningcomebacks in the eighth inning.

Volcanoes' relief pitcher Eric Johnson walked the first two men he facedand was lifted from the game in favor of left hander Shawn Austin.

Austin's job was to get Southern Oregon lefty Roberto Vaz out, but Vazhad no part of it, lashing Austin's third offering into right center foran RBI single.

Turner went to the bullpen once more, calling on closer Jesse Travis.And Travis did the job, inducing Adam Piatt to hit into a double play. BradGorrie cut the lead to 4-2 with an RBI single, but Travis got Sosa to flyout to end the inning.

They (Southern Oregon) were in a great position, Turner said.It wasn't the way we had it drawn up, but Kenna just made a greatplay.

This was an especially big win for us. We should have won yesterday,but the kids really responded today.

On the other side of things, Kuehl thought he had another comeback onhishands.

Anytime you put yourself into position to tie or win the game it'sa great ballgame, he said. These guys continue to show thatthey can score runs late in the game.

The victory was especially important for Salem-Keizer in the SouthernDivision standings, as they moved withen 2 1/2 games of Division leadingPortland.

The Timberjacks host Salem-Keizer again tonight at 6:05 p.m. to wrapup the three-game series. On Monday, Everett comes to town for a five-gameseries.