For a championship game, Sunday’s matchup between the regular-season Great West League champion Medford Rogues and runner-up Chico Heat had everything one could ask for at Harry & David Field.
The top two teams battled it out toe-to-toe for nine unflinching innings before the visiting Heat secured a 1-0 triumph to secure the best-of-three series to claim the inaugural GWL championship trophy.
Chico starter Stuart Bradley pitched a complete-game four-hitter and was matched by Medford starter Dylan Pearce, who tossed his own four-hitter in eight-plus innings in what developed as a pitcher’s duel.
The Heat (36-24) managed to score the lone run of the decisive game in the third inning, using a leadoff error, sacrifice bunt and RBI single by Kyle Kramer to tally the pivotal unearned run against the Rogues (41-19).
Medford had opened the GWL Championship Series with a 12-4 win in Chico before the Heat rallied to take the crown with 9-3 and 1-0 road victories. The Rogues were 26-7 at home during the regular season.
“It’s funny how the baseball gods work,” said Chico manager Fred Ludwig. “The Rogues come down to Chico and we play very poorly. We come up here and they play poorly (Saturday) and then the last game was the game to be at, it was the greatest game of the series. Both guys threw well, all the plays were made, the guys barrelled up the ball on both sides and it was just a fun game to be involved in.”
“I have to tip my hat to the Rogues,” added Ludwig. “You guys up here have a class-act program. (Rogues manager Josh Hogan) does a great job. It was a good matchup against a good group of kids here so I really tip my hat to them.”
Medford was the only team in the GWL to win 40 games during the regular season, finishing six games ahead of Chico, but late-season hits to the starting lineup as players filtered back to their collegiate programs left the Rogues short-handed in the end.
“From what we had, that was pretty special just to have it be a one-run game,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. “If it was in Vegas, our chances were very low. I’m emotional right now because those kids battled. They left it all out there.”
No one exemplified that more than Pearce, who was a standout pitcher at Crater High in Central Point and spent this past season at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
“I’ve gotta give it up to Dylan Pearce,” said Rogues shortstop Cam Russ. “He gave us a great chance to win, the balls just weren’t falling for us. I felt we were getting good pieces here and there but that’s just baseball and there’s nothing we can do now.”
Pearce went 4-2 with a 2.30 ERA in the regular season and finished among the GWL leaders with 51 strikeouts, then went out and pitched his finest game in the most pressure-packed moment Sunday. He struck out five and exited to a standing ovation when he was relieved by Colton Westfall after allowing his only walk on a 10-pitch at-bat by Keaton Kringlen in the top of the ninth inning.
“I knew when I got out on the mound they were going to get everything I had and I was going to finish the game no matter what,” said Pearce. “Whatever the Heat got, they got my best so hat’s off to them because they got the win.”
“That’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes,” he added. “My team battled. We didn’t have our full squad but we are the Rogues and they gave me everything and I know that they were always behind me.”
Medford’s best chance at scoring came in the opening inning when Jayden Hanna kept up his torrid pace to close out the season by slapping a leadoff single and, after a sacrifice bunt by Brock Pradere, Bradley walked Russ to put runners at first and second with one out. The Chico State right-hander, however, reached back for a strikeout and then induced an inning-ending groundout to get out of the jam.
After that, Bradley didn’t allow more than one Rogue on the basepaths in any respective inning, scattering singles by Robby Teel, Bryon Foust and Pearce in the second, fifth and eighth innings, respectively. Bradley finished with six strikeouts and no walks.
Foust and Pearce in the batting order further proves Medford’s short-handed ways, with both players seeing almost the entire summer as pitchers. Pearce’s first at-bats of the summer came last Thursday in the regular-season finale, while Foust has been in left field only over the past 10 days.
“We were very short-handed offensively, starting two pitchers out there in the starting lineup, but that’s not to make excuses because we battled and we were right in it,” said Hogan. “We didn’t have that many hits today but we only gave up one unearned run, played great defense and our energy, our will, our want was always there the whole game.”
Ludwig said part of the reason his team was able to surge from fourth place in the GWL to its role as maybe the hottest team down the stretch was because it’s core group was able to stay together.
“There was a lot of ups and downs this year just like every team in the Great West League with transitional players but we just had that group of guys that stayed with us,” said Ludwig. “We were lucky enough to have one core group of guys that stayed with us throughout the whole summer and that was the biggest deal. With our pitching staff and our position players we really had one core and that’s what it took.”
While the championship series loss may sting for the Rogues, it certainly didn’t discount or taint what was a tremendous summer for the fourth-year franchise.
“I’ll never forget this summer and these guys and how much they brought out,” said Hogan. “They left it all out on the table each day and for each other selflessly, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
Bradley and Helmstadter; Pearce, Westfall (9) and Teel. W — Bradley (8-2). L — Pearce (4-3). 2B — C: Schneemann.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry