Challengers Split Double Header with Medford Mustangs
After being rained out for their Saturday evening match-up, the Eugene Challengers took to Swede Johnson field on Sunday to face off against their league rival, the Medford Mustangs.
With much better cooperation from the weather on Sunday, the Eugene Challengers looked to avenge their 2011 campaign against the Mustangs as they were ousted by Medford in the state tournament after splitting the season series at two a piece. Errors proved costly for the visiting Mustangs as the Challengers used a five-run fifth inning accompanied by two errors by Medford to blow the game open, ultimately leading to an 8-3 victory in game one of the double-header.
On the hill for the Challengers in game one was Zach Eyster, the Challengers most experienced player with four years under his belt for Eugene. Duel-enrolled at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon, Eyster was able to pitch for Lane prior to starting his season with the challengers.
Coming off one of his strongest performances in some time, Eyster had trouble recording that pesky third out in the first inning as the Mustangs were able to scratch across a run in the form of Ethan Schlecht.
After retiring Charlie Walker and Evan Westhelle-Grant to get a quick two-outs in the inning, Eyster walked Schlecht to give the Mustangs the opportunity to score in the first as Schlect would steal second base to give the Mustangs a runner in scoring position with two down in the top of the first.
The next batter for the Challengers would give the game its first RBI as Medford first-baseman singled up the middle to plate Schlecht, giving the Mustangs an early 1-0 lead over the challengers.
It would not be too long before the next action in the game as the Challengers were able to put three on the board in the bottom-half of the second inning, after threatening but not being able to put across any runs in the first.
Cooper Stiles got the Challengers started off in the second with a line drive up the middle for a single to center. After right-fielder Mike Ralston reached first on an error by Medford SS Cody Hoff, both Jacob DeZarn and Ben Giland struck-out to give the Challengers two outs in the inning, although both Stiles and Ralston were able to advance to second and third respectively as the catcher could not control the ball.
Continuing his hot start to the season, Eugene center-fielder Ryan Land would then put the Challengers on top 2-1 as he rocketed a ball into the left-center gap, plating both Cooper Stiles and Mike Ralston. Land would then come around to score on a single to right field by Erik Long, giving the Challengers a 3-1 lead at the end of two innings.
Keeping up with the scoring mentality of the game, the Mustangs would rally back for a run in the top of the third inning as they pulled the game within one. After Charlie Walker walked and subsequently advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Evan Westhelle-Grant, Walker was able to score with two outs from second on a wild pitch that reached the backstop.
Though each team would threaten in the fourth inning, both were unable to put any more runs across the plate as there were zeroes across the board.
The bottom of the fifth inning would become very interesting for the Challengers as both Joe Schindler and Brett Nielsen started off the inning by reaching base after two consecutive errors by Medford SS Cody Hoff, giving the Challengers a runner on first and second with nobody out. Both Schindler and Nielsen would then advance to third and second on a wild pitch by Medford starter Morrison.
Challengers third-baseman Garrett Harpole would then record his first RBI of the game as he hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Schindler. Nielsen was also retired during the same play as he tried to take third but was caught by the cutoff throw.
With two outs in the inning, the Challengers found the momentum to break the game wide open as they chased Challenger starter Christian Morrison and got to relief pitcher A.J. Doolittle. After Morrison hit Cooper Stiles with two down in the inning, Mike Ralston ripped a shot to left field that just got past Medford left-fielders Jessie Hornbrook’s glove, plating Stiles and reaching third safely with a triple.
Medford P Christian Morrison would then be chased out of the game as Jacob DeZarn lined a shot off of his leg, reaching first on the play while Mike Ralston crossed the plate as well. Limping off the field, Morrison left the game to be replaced by Mustang reliever A.J. Doolittle.
After DeZarn reached third on a wild-pitch by Doolittle, Ben Giland singled him home to keep the scoring rally going. The next batter, Ryan Land, would continue his big day as he launched a double to right field, scoring Giland on the play for his third RBI in the game. The Challengers would walk away from the inning leading 8-2, thus giving a comfortable lead for starter Zach Eyster who had settled down nicely after shaking off the first few innings.
Though Medford would plate another run in the top of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Jessie Hornbrook that scored Ethan Schlect to bring the score to 8-3, the Challengers held off the Mustangs in the seventh to take the first game of the series with a convincing 8-3 victory.
After blowing the first game of their double-header against the Mustangs open in the fifth inning, the Eugene Challengers sought to clean up the ‘Stangs in an evening night cap.
Jake Lessel, out of Churchill High School, got the call on the hill for the Challengers in the second game, with an approximate start time of 4:37pm PT.
Continuing the success of Zach Eyster’s pitching performance, Lessel got off to a hot start in game two, striking out two of the three batters in the first inning without allowing a hit as he would also get Medford CF Taylor Humphrey to foul out to third-baseman Garrett Harpole.
The bottom-half of the first inning for the Challengers would see Ryan Land continue his big day at the plate. With nobody out for Eugene, Land laced a ball up the middle for yet another single, collecting his first hit of the second game and fourth hit of the day overall. After making his way to third base on a sacrifice fly by Joe Schindler, Challengers first-baseman Brett Nielsen struck out looking to leave Land stranded at third.
After a lackadaisical second inning that saw both teams put up zeroes, the Challengers were the first team to strike as they plated three in the third inning. After Gage McDaniel was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a passed ball, Ryan Land walked to join him on base. With runners on first and second, Alex Torres was able to put them into scoring position with a ground ball to second base that saw him thrown out at first.
After a somewhat “intentional” walk to Joe Schindler, Brett Nielsen recorded the first two RBIs of the second game as he plated both McDaniel and Land on a single to the right-center gap. Schindler would also advance to third on the play.
With just one down in the inning, Garrett Harpole extended the Challengers lead to three as he hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Schindler.
The first threat the Mustangs were able to put on the Jake Lessel and the Challengers came in the top of the fifth inning as the Mustangs rattled off four straight singles to close the lead to just one with two innings still left to play. After Charlie Walker and Taylor Humphrey both singled, Ethan Schlecht would put the Mustangs on the board as he laced a single to left, scoring Walker on the play. Humphrey would then cross the plate as Billy Hansen sneaked a hit past Eugene third-baseman Garrett Harpole.
Medford would finish the inning with five hits, all acquired by singles.
Harnessing their fifth-inning rally yet again, the Challengers would be sparked by the bat of Garrett Harpole. With two outs in the inning and Brett Nielsen on first base, Garrett Harpole launched an intimidating two-run home run that easily cleared the fence in left-center field, giving Eugene some much-needed breathing room as they exited the fifth inning leading 5-2.
Jake Lessel’s night would be over after completing five successful innings of pitching, only surrendering two runs on six hits while striking out four. Reliever Travis Boggs would come in to start the sixth to replace Lessel.
Seeking to capitalize off of Boggs and have a two-out rally for themselves, the Mustangs scored two runs in the inning to once again pull within one of the Challengers. After Taren Bradd doubled over Eugene CF Ryan Land with one out, Charlie Walker singled to move Land over to third. With runners on first and third and one down, Taylor Humphrey hit what should have been an inning ending double play, but Eugene second-baseman Alex Torres was unable to get the throw to first in time as Humphrey reached first, also resulting in Walker scoring for the Mustangs.
After an error by Cooper Stiles that allowed Ethan Schlecht to reach first, Billy Hansen doubled to deep left, plating Humphrey and advancing Schlecht to first. The Mustangs would finish the inning just one run behind the Challengers with one inning left for them to go.
Fortunately for the Challengers, however, closer Toby Woods came in the seventh inning to try and close out the game. Just surrendering one walk to reliever Jamie Flynn of the Mustangs, Woods struck out the rest of the hitters as the Challengers waltzed to the double-header sweep and a 5-4 victory.