In an afternoon of baseball that was seldom pretty, the Eugene Challengers prevailed over the Northwest Star Academy Barbers in a double header match-up on Sunday. Game One was moved-up due to a last-minute scheduling two hours ahead of schedule, with the Challengers winning handily 5-0. Luckily for those who came late to the game, the second game had more than enough action to satisfy, as evidenced by its final score of 4-3.
“I don’t think it was our best effort,” said Challengers’ coach Todd Zeigler afterwards, his clenched jaw muscles emphasizing his displeasure. Zeigler immediately softened his assessment of his team’s performance by noting that this was only the fourth time this Challengers roster had played together (two of the team’s four opening games were cancelled) and he expects them to improve as the season moves on.
Among those not turning in their best effort was Challengers pitcher Jake Lessel, whose erratic pitching in game two resulted in three runs scored by the Barbers by the end of the second inning. Of the twenty-three at-bats Lessel faced in the four innings he pitched, he gave up six walks (two of those after hitting the batter with his pitch), earned an error after bobbling a ball hit directly to him, and tallied only three strikeouts.
When asked about Lessel’s rough outing, Zeigler rose quickly to his pitcher’s defense. “He’s usually better than that, but he gave us what he had,” he said, adding a short while latter that Lessel is “one of our top three or four pitchers.”
After being kept scoreless through the first two innings by Barbers’ pitcher Codi Scanlon, who pitched the entire game, the Challengers responded in the bottom of the third with a two-run homer by Garret Harpole that narrowed Star Academy’s lead to 2-3. Harpole, who tied the home run record at North Eugene High his senior year, was understandably upbeat after hitting his first home run of the season. “I hit two last year in college (Western Oregon),” he added. “I felt pretty good out there.” Like his coach, Harpole noted that this was just the third match-up of the season for him and his teammates. “We haven’t quite peaked to our full potential,” he explained, adding that “early jitters” were to blame for their uneven performance against the Barbers.
The most exciting stretch of the game occurred in the bottom of the fourth. The Challengers, frustrated by their inability to score, caught the Barbers off guard with an inspired, aggressive series of bunts. The Barbers soon counteracted the Challengers’ new strategy by moving their first and third basemen closer to home plate, but by then Eugene had already scored two runs and put themselves in the lead for good, 4-3.
Travis Boggs, who replaced Lessel at pitcher in the fifth inning, quickly crushed the Barbers’ remaining hopes of victory. Facing nine at-bats in three innings, Boggs racked up an efficient four strikeouts with one walk, twisted in mid-air so he landed on his non-throwing side, and threw the runner out at first base. After the game, Zeigler broke into a smile at the mention of Boggs’ name. “He’s a gamer,” the coach said.
Other highlights from the game include a nice diving catch by Barbers outfielder Jake Peterson at the bottom of the fourth, an acrobatic lunging catch & throw-out at first base by Boggs at the top of the sixth, and the Barbers’ Cody Childs and Jake Peterson stealing bases simultaneously at the top of the second.