Another series, another win for McMinnville
The Grizzlies (13-8) had just squandered a golden opportunity. They scored one run in the bottom of the first inning but left two runners on after a hard-hit ball by Garret Adams is caught at second base. An OK inning that could have been a great inning.
Immediately to start the top of the second inning, Nick Ochoa doubled to center field, and McMinnville coach Darren Bland said that could have been the moment where the Crimson Tide took the momentum. Instead, starter Nick Springer refocused and got out of the inning without allowing a run.
“The huge thing is after only scoring one run in the bottom of the first is holding them scoreless because momentum is quickly shifting over their direction,” Bland said.
That moment wouldn’t not have been as big if McMinnville and Glencoe weren’t playing a three-series. Since conferences at Oregon’s higher classifications started scheduling their games in two- and three-game series, high school players are experiencing the true nature of baseball. Playing one team three times over the course of a five-day school week has opened the door to more strategy and more interesting matchups.
“It’s a lot more like baseball,” said Adams, who was 1-for-4 in the series clincher Friday. “You’re supposed to play three games.”
McMinnville has been better than most at playing in the series format. Two seasons ago, the Grizzlies won all of their Pacific Conference series matchups en route to a conference championship. This year, Mac has again won every series except for one split two-game series vs. Newberg at the beginning of the year. It has put the Grizzlies into second place in the conference with a big three-game set starting today vs. Tualatin that will determine the conference title.
Sometimes there is a strategic reason to who Bland chooses to start pitching in the first game of series. On April 23 in the first game vs. Glencoe at Patton, Bland goes with his ace — junior Gage Gubrud. No need to mess up the rotation this week. Gubrud does his job until the top of the seventh inning when he gives up a two-RBI double that ties the game at two. Until that point Mac was leading 2-0 and in control after scoring runs in the bottom of the first and second innings.
Gubrud makes up for it in the bottom of the seventh. He beats out an infield single and steals second base. Zach Rhoads attempts to lay down a bunt, but the Glencoe pitcher overthrows first base and Gubrud easily scores the winning run. McMinnville 3, Glencoe 2.
Despite the dramatic finish, the Grizzlies never showed any tenseness. They were confident, and after the game they stood around Bland at third base, listening to his lecture and what they need to work on for Wednesday’s game on the road at Glencoe.
Just before the McMinnville bus pulls off the curb from the varsity baseball field at 2:27 p.m. Wednesday, Gubrud admits to Bland and the coaching staff that he’s packed the wrong uniform. Gubrud rushed to the bus after returning from a field trip to Western Oregon University, and he grabbed the wrong bag at his house. A solution is found: Ryan Dix lends Gubrud his No. 11 for the game.
Crisis adverted, the bus heads for Glencoe High School in Hillsboro. When the players file off the bus it’s 3:47 p.m.
The game itself is forgettable. There are always numerous excuses why a team no-shows on the road, but Bland won’t let his players make them. The Grizzlies fall behind 11-0 after the second inning and lost 15-4. Starting Blake Egli is shelled for 11 runs, and Mac commits four errors. Mid-way through the game, Bland rearranges his lineup. Senior Kurtis Cooper goes in to pitch in the top of the sixth inning, and Springer catches.
“Sometimes you have to acknowledge that it happened and move on,” Bland said during the game. “It sucked, but you realize it’s just a game, try to remember to have fun and move on.”
Just before the bus leaves Glencoe, another case of forgotten uniform items. Assistant coach Morgan Flint stands at the front of the bus, holding up a pair of red cleats and a black gym bag.
“$10 for each,” he says to the team. “I have student loans to pay off.”
The Grizzlies refocus Thursday with some extra hitting in the morning and a competitive scrimmage in the afternoon under brilliantly sunny skies. Bland said this year’s team has probably done more hitting than the past two years combined. The scrimmage appears to have loosened the team up, because the Grizzlies jump out to an 8-0 lead after the second inning Friday and don’t look back.
Mac racks up 12 hits to make it 28 for the series.
Postgame, players high five on the mound, but there isn’t any excessive cheering. The biggest series is yet to come, and they were already thinking about it. Springer earned the win for the Grizzlies, and said the big thing that refocused the team was the looming series with Tualatin this week. Tualatin is 11-1 in the Pacific Conference, two games ahead of Mac. The Grizzlies need to win two-of-three to tie and all three to take the conference lead outright.
“This was a good confidence booster heading into next week,” he said. “It’s make or break.