Bitter pill to swallow
TUALATIN – Only one pitcher has recorded multiple victories against the McMinnville baseball team in 2014.
Jacob Bennett of Tualatin also gets the credit for knocking the Grizzlies out of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Bennett pitched a complete-game four-hitter and went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple as the Timberwolves bid farewell to McMinnville, 9-2, at Tualatin High School in Friday evening’s Class 6A state quarterfinal game.
Adrian Uscanga, Gage Gubrud, Zach Rhoads and Sam Swenson all tallied hits for the Grizzlies, all singles.
“I thought we did a nice job and came back offensively, sticking with our approach, hitting some balls hard,” McMinnville coach Jordan Harlow said. “Just right at guys.”
McMinnville (21-8) harbored few secrets against opponents: The Grizzlies would win with strong pitching, sound defense and timely hitting. Even after giving up the most runs all season to one opponent Friday, Mac finished the season with 85 runs allowed in 29 games; only six teams allowed fewer runs, and only Tualatin (78 runs in 29 games) had played as many games.
On Friday night, the Grizzlies made mistakes on the mound and in the field, and Tualatin made them pay.
With two outs in the home half of the first inning and Timberwolves catcher Jake Gellos on third base, Tualatin right fielder Brandon Shroyer hit a ground ball to McMinnville shortstop Kade Mechals. Mechals had to move to field the ball, and he short-hopped his throw to first baseman Swenson. Swenson could not catch the ball, and Gellos scored the game’s first run.
“We’ve been solid all year defensively. We came out here and we just didn’t make plays when we needed to at certain times,” Harlow said.
Bennett followed Shroyer with an RBI triple off Mac starter David Brosius.
Brosius struggled to stay ahead in counts, walking four batters and allowing four hits. Gellos hit an RBI double off him in the second inning – Tualatin’s second hit of the game to that point – and Bennett and Trevor Riese opened the third inning with singles. Harlow substituted Wyatt Smith in for Brosius after Riese reached base; both runners would later score.
“He came out and they were on him,” Harlow said of Brosius. “I thought he was competitive, I thought he was getting after guys.”
Bennett set the tone in the visitors’ half of innings by striking out the side in the first inning and snagging a hard-hit comebacker by Jacob Bannister in the third inning for an out. Tualatin’s 5-0 lead after three innings looked less secure in the top of the fourth inning, as Smith walked, Uscanga singled and Swenson reached on an error to load the bases with one out.
Cameron Fox drew a walk on four pitches, allowing Smith to score McMinnville’s first run. But Kyle Casey struck out swinging in an eight-pitch at-bat and Mechals grounded out to end the inning.
Swenson scored the Grizzlies’ only other run, on an error by Gellos, in the sixth inning.
Riley McAnally came on in relief of Smith and pitched 2/3 of an inning after Tualatin scored four runs in the fifth. Travis Allen worked the sixth inning, allowing one hit and one walk.
“Real pleased with the relievers,” Harlow said. “They came in, threw a lot of strikes, didn’t allow a lot of guys to get free bases. That’s what we want our relievers to do; that’s exactly what we did. I was real pleased with our effort.”
Tualatin (24-5) advanced to the 6A state semifinals today, where it plays at North Medford. The Timberwolves won the Pacific Conference with a 13-4 record, one game ahead of the Grizzlies.
“I felt like we were a great team. I felt like we could go as far as we could (in the playoffs),” Rhoads said. “I felt like we could have kept going, to tell you the truth.”
At this time last year, Harlow was celebrating with his fellow Linfield College baseball players at Fox Field in Appleton, Wisc., after the Wildcats won the NCAA Division III national championship. His first season as a varsity coach was marked by quick buy-in and commitment to a small-ball style of play.
“It was a great group. I told the guys, just very thankful to have this group of guys,” Harlow said. “It’s a very special group. They play the game hard, they play the game the right way. It starts up top with the seniors – those guys helped me, helped set the tone, helped the coaching staff.
“It’s going to be great things to come for Grizzly baseball.”