Jay Swanson for EDN Sports
For the second night in a row the Eugene Challengers put up double digit runs and had an impressive pitching performance. Yet despite his team’s smashing 14-4 victory over the Withnell (Salem) Dodgers, and stellar 30-6 record, head coach Todd Ziegler wants to make sure his team continues to focus and get better for the rest of the season.
“That’s been my message for 36 games now,” Ziegler said after the game was called in the bottom of the 7th because of the 10 run rule. “In certain areas, we could work harder and have more of a killer instinct. Sometimes we rely on our talent instead of focusing for all 27 outs. That’s not going to cut it when the games really matter.”
If this team can combine their ability with coach Ziegler’s message, then look out. Once again the Challengers showed they can score in a variety of ways, and with a variety of players. And when they get hot, it seems to all come at once.
They put up five runs in the 4th to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 lead that would only grow larger in the ensuing innings. In what was to be the final inning, they scored big again with 7 runs, and still had 2 men on and two outs in the 7th. They sent 11 batters to the plate that inning, and nine in the 4th. The Dodgers used 3 pitchers in 6 2/3 innings, and none were especially effective.
When asked if he thought the offence was clicking, coach Ziegler said, “Definitely, we’re hitting descent, and we’re pitching well.” The former is an understatement, as their 17 hits attest to, and the latter was due to starter Cameron Jack. The junior-to-be at Churchill went all 7 innings for the home team, spreading out 10 hits while allowing only 3 earned runs. “He’s been solid for us. He’s in his second season , but he’s only 16 years old. He always gives us his best effort. It’s a real testament to his make-up,” remarked coach Ziegler.
And some of that make-up was tested when he fell behind 2-0 early, after single runs by the Dodgers in the 2nd and 3rd. Eugene answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the 3rd, on a double by Ryan Land, followed by and RBI single from Jacob DeZarn. After giving the run right back in the top of the fourth, the floodgates opened.
Brett Nielsen started things off with a single, and was driven in by Garret Harpole’s double. An error allowed Harpole to score, and a hit batter put 2 runners on for leadoff man Land, who doubled again, bringing in one run. With runners on second and third, DeZarn came through again with a two-out, two-run single. The score was now 6-3, and the Challengers never looked back.
Jack settled in and cruised through the 5th and 6th without allowing a runner to second. The lead increased by one in the bottom of the sixth when Jordan Thompson, who has 6 hits in his past two games, led off with a double and came around to score on Land’s single. The Dodgers then pulled within three runs in the top of the 7th inning on a homerun to leftfield from clean-up hitter Cole Ferguson. The team appeared energized by his blast, but Jack got the net two hitters to fly out to end the inning and, as it turned out, his night on the mound.
The bottom of the seventh featured six singles and three errors, including a passed ball on strike three to Harpole that allowed Mike Ralston to score the game’s final run.
The challengers were led by their leadoff man Land, who went 4-4 with 2 doubles, three runs, and 3 RBI’s. Second baseman DeZarn was 4-5 with 4 RBI’s and a run scored, while Harpole added three hits with 2 doubles, 2 runs, and an RBI.
“We’ve lost 6 times, but nobody’s beat us yet.” Coach Ziegler stated. “We’ve beaten ourselves.” Hopefully, when the games really matter come playoff time, the focus will be there, and nobody will be left to beat them.