By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Grizzlies baseball luckless in a loss to Tualatin

It was Tualatin 3, McMinnville 2 Wednesday, and with every celebratory clap the Timberwolves (17-5, 13-1) elatedly did, it was another reminder to the Grizzlies (13-10, 9-5) that their chances of winning a Pacific Conference championship were gone.

“Obviously you don’t want a team to win the league title on your field when you have a 2-0 lead in the seventh,” McMinnville coach Darren Bland said.

Just 30 minutes prior to senior Blake Egli grounding out to shortstop to end the game in the bottom of the ninth inning — the 16th straight Grizzly to be put out — McMinnville was indeed three outs away from evening the three-game series at one apiece. Instead, a groundball to the shortstop turned into the first of three costly errors for the Grizzlies, and Tualatin capitalized.

“We were the beneficiaries of some of their mistakes,” Tualatin coach Adam Strachan said, “but we were aggressive to make those happen.”

Tualatin’s first batter in the top of the seventh inning — Brunner — led off with a single to right field. Jake Gellos then sent a bouncing ground ball up the middle to shortstop Gage Gubrud. He met the ball in between hops and misplayed it. Instead of at the minimum having one out, Tualatin had two on and no outs.

“Just get one, two’s a bonus, and we get none,” Bland said.

Tualatin cut Mac’s lead to 2-1 on a base hit to left field by Connor Scott off of Mac starting pitcher Nick Springer, and then Joey Fishback tied the game with a perfectly executed safety bunt down the third-base line.

“It’s hard with one out and a guy who can really control the bat up to bat,” Bland said. “He did what he needed to. He put it in the middle of nowhere.”

Springer got out of the inning and came out to start the eighth inning for the Grizzlies. He set the Timberwolves down in order, but Brunner reached base to start the top of the ninth on Springer after second baseman Adrian Uscanga bobbled a groundball. Brunner moved to second base on a passed ball, and he reached third on a ground ball to third base. First baseman Kurtis Cooper tried to throw out the late-breaking Brunner at third, but his attempt went wide right, sending Brunner home.

Early in the game, it was Mac taking advantage of the slow-starting Timberwolves. Uscanga led off the game with double to center field and scored on a wild pitch by starting pitcher Jacob Bennett. Uscanga led off the bottom of the third inning with a walk and after a single by Jacob Bannister, scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by Gubrud.

On that play, the momentum shifted. Gubrud sent a hard-hit ball down the right field line. It trailed away from the right fielder, but he made a diving catch for the first out. Egli then grounded into an inning-ending double play.

“That was an offensive momentum changer because the guy made an amazing play down the line,” Bland said. “If he doesn’t make the catch we’re at least second and third with no one out.”

The play also gave Bennett new life. Garrett Adams singled to right field in the bottom of the fourth inning, and he was the last Grizzly to reach base. Bennett sat down 16 in a row to shut the door on Mac and its hopes of tying the series and inching closer to first place in the conference. As it stands now, the Grizzlies are a game ahead of Hillsboro and Tigard for second place with three games left in the regular season left to play. Tualatin cannot be caught for first place.

“McMinnville is a really god team,” Strachan said, adding it felt like a playoff game Wednesday afternoon. “They’re a well-coached team, and they have some really good players.”

Strachan was also complementary of Springer, who pitched the complete game for Mac. He took the loss after pitching nine innings and allowing three runs (one earned) on six hits. He walked two batters and struck out five batters.

Bennett, a sophomore, allowed three hits, two runs, walked two, hit one batter and struck out eight to earn the complete game win.

“(Once they tied it at 2), Bennett dealt,” Bland said.

Uscanga was 1-for-3 Wednesday with a double and two runs scored. Bannister and Adams had Mac’s other hits.

The Grizzlies play at 5 p.m. Friday at Tualatin. Mac finishes its Pacific Conference schedule with a two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday vs. Century (10-13, 6-8).

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