Rogues unravel late in rare loss
Aki Buckson has been one of the Medford Rogues’ top hitters this summer, but he had to wait for his chance to contribute Friday night against the visiting Sacramento Heat at Harry & David Field.
Given the first few innings of the night off, Buckson came on as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning and made his presence known immediately in front of a hopeful crowd of 1,017.
A Bellevue College product who is headed to Vanguard University next year ripped a two-run triple to center field to snap Medford’s 0-for-6 drought in advancing runners in scoring position and provide the lift his team needed.
Unfortunately, that spurt was short-lived.
After Buckson’s big hit and an ensuing two-run home run by Maxx Mahon allowed the Rogues to surge ahead for a 4-1 lead, Sacramento supplied a rally of its own with a nine-run eighth inning to steal a 10-6 triumph in Golden State Collegiate Baseball League play.
“We played a pretty good game aside from that one inning,” said Buckson, who entered the game second on the team with a .432 batting average. “I feel like we hit the ball hard, it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Game 3 of the four-game home series will be 6:35 p.m. Saturday and serve as Military Appreciation Night at Harry & David Field. The game will feature the Rogues’ second themed jersey night of the summer, with a jersey auction during the game where proceeds will benefit the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club.
As only the third loss for the Rogues in 20 games this summer, Buckson said he didn’t believe there would be any holdover from Friday’s rough outcome.
“We’ve just got to look at what we’ve done before,” he said, “and we’ll use that as confidence going into the next game, knowing that we can go out and win a ballgame.”
Buckson, a Silverdale, Washington regular, came on with one out and two on in the sixth after Heat starting pitcher Joseph Spenz hit leadoff batters Ben Kiefer and Caleb Broughton.
After Medford (17-3) had missed scoring chances in three of the first five innings, Buckson delivered a sizzling shot over the head of Sacramento center fielder Blake Peterson to give the Rogues their first lead of the night.
“Aki Buckson is a full-time starter wherever he goes,” said Rogues manager Sean Gallagher. “The kid is unbelievable at the plate. He showed up early to camp, worked hard on his swing and has been phenomenal with a great stroke.”
With some batters that struggle with offspeed pitching, Gallagher said he was trying to get some of his players at-bats before making late-inning moves.
“When it was time to make the flip, we knew that we were going to score runs,” said Gallagher, “and Aki was the first to put it up on the board.”
For his part, Buckson said he was just happy to contribute. He finished 2-for-2 with a double, triple, two runs scored and three RBIs in his only at-bats Friday.
“It felt good to get in the game,” he said. “I was taking some hacks in the cage for a couple innings earlier so I felt ready to go.”
“(Spenz) just threw me the same pitch twice in a row,” added Buckson. “I watched the first one and I was looking for that same pitch and he just gave it to me. After that I just put my head down and kept running.”
Mahon wasted little time extending that lead, turning on the next offering by Spenz for a no-doubt two-run blast over the left field fence to make it 4-1.
After that, however, everything seemed to slip away for Medford and starting pitcher Colton Harris. The Dixie State University product had flirted with trouble since allowing a first-inning run on an RBI fielder’s choice by Troy Shields but was able to keep out of further trouble thanks to a little of his own efforts and some defensive support as he followed with six scoreless innings.
With Harris slated to only throw five innings, Gallagher said the right-hander did not want to come out of the game as planned and as has been his managing style all summer, he was willing to let Harris deal with that decision, for better or worse.
“We had a lesson to learn tonight,” said Gallagher. “The pitcher felt like he wanted to stay in and wanted to go the full game even though that was not the game plan, and we let him do it. So he learned a valuable lesson tonight about when the time to come out is probably the time to come out.”
In Sacramento’s nine-run eighth inning, the Heat (8-8) put its first seven batters on base against Harris with four consecutive singles to start the frame. Gallagher came out for a mound visit after that, but the call wasn’t to the bullpen, instead Harris retained the ball.
“For me it’s getting these kids prepped for what they’re going to do in college,” said Gallagher. “I’ve got to teach them lessons. Winning or losing doesn’t really matter to me. We win because we’re doing the right things, we’re trying to develop the right things in these players. Today was a great lesson for our pitching staff. You’ve got to buy in and you’ve got to believe in your managers. And if you don’t, then it’s for you to prove. He’s a phenomenal pitcher and unfortunately it had to go that route.”
After hitting the next batter to reload the bases, Jake Vujovich tied the game with an RBI single and the Heat went ahead 5-4 on a passed ball before Harris’ night ultimately ended on another walk to load the bases.
Reliever Jesse Spangler didn’t fare much better after that, hitting a batter and walking the next to allow Sacramento to go up 7-4 before the Rogues registered their first out. An RBI single by Trey Furrey, RBI walk to Shields and RBI sacrifice fly on a nice leaning catch over the fence near the left-field line bullpen by Joe Johnson made it 10-6, and meant that the Heat was able to plate its first nine batters.
Harris (1-1, one save) finished with six strikeouts, five walks and seven earned runs in seven-plus innings. He entered the game with a 1.20 ERA with an impressive 18 strikeouts to only three walks in 15 innings pitched.
“I don’t know if there’s baseball gods out there or not, but they’re always teaching us lessons,” said Gallagher. “And that’s exactly what happened. I look at it as a good day. Our hitters did well, the ones that were successful today, and Harris threw a great game right up until the time that it slipped away. The next time he goes out he’ll be pitching five to six innings and then will be out of the game. That’s baseball.”
Omar Ortiz was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles for Medford, while Mahon was 1-for-3 with three RBIs. Sacramento’s Furrey went 3-for-5, while Shields had three RBIs and Kevin Fitzgerald drove in two runs.
Spenz, Dentoni (9) and Wynne; Harris, Spangler (8), Myers (9) and Kiefer, Mulholland (7). W — Spenz (1-0). L — Harris (1-1). 2B — M: Ortiz 2, Dorsey, Buckson. 3B — M: Buckson. HR — M: Mahon (2).