BEND, Ore. – For five innings on Saturday night, the Gresham GreyWolves offense was flustered and fumbling along, unable to figure out Bend Elks starter Riley Newman. Newman was cruising through all parts of the Gresham order with ease, including a start to the game that saw him strike out six of the first nine batters he faced.
Things would eventually change with a big sixth-inning rally – a rally that ultimately proved to be the difference in a huge 3-1 win for the GreyWolves (12-7, 23-23 overall). The victory not only gives the team a chance to clinch a series win on Sunday in Bend, but also keeps them within a game and a half of first place in the South Division’s second half standings.
“That was a great job by our guys to put together at-bats when it wasn’t looking good,” said head coach Justin Barchus after the win. “The offense needs to be better, but that (Newman) was one of their best guys. To score three runs and still win the game is big for us.”
This game had all of the makings of a pitcher’s duel from the outset, with both Newman and Gresham starter Chris Brown (UC Davis) cruising through the first the first five innings. Bend (8-14, 19-30) was able to scratch across a run in the bottom of the third inning, but Brown did a good job of settling back in and striking out the next batter he faced to end the frame with limited damage.
The deficit remained at 1-0 up until the sixth inning, when the GreyWolves were finally able to get their bats going in arguably the biggest sequence of the season thus far.
Leadoff man Dylan Doherty started the frame with a single, and he would eventually come around to score with Drew Curtis on a big two-out, two-RBI base hit off the bat of Washington product Jack Johnson. The visitors weren’t done, however, as both Ryan Smith and Will Matthiessen were able to work singles behind Johnson.
Matthiessen’s single was just deep enough to score another run, a huge insurance tally that put his club up 3-1. The RBI was the Stanford signee’s 11th of the summer.
“We had a lot of great two-strike approaches tonight,” Barchus said. “Will’s big hit to extend the lead was just another example of that.”
With the bright Central Oregon sun not setting until halfway through the game, Gresham’s players struggled early battling the sun angle over the left field wall. Barchus thought that could have been part of the reason his club struggled so much in the first through fifth innings.
“That sun in left field is tough here,” said the head coach. “It’s been here forever, but at the same time this is the first time these guys have played with it in their eyes. That was a bit of an adjustment that we saw after striking out six of our first nine times at the plate.”
With a two-run lead in hand, Brown was able to work comfortably for two more innings before handing the game to his bullpen. Both Jeramy Smith (Grand Canyon) and Michael Clark (Cal Poly) cruised through their combined two innings of work as well, sealing the deal on a 3-1 victory that snaps a two-game losing streak for the GreyWolves.
Brown (3-2) earned the victory after allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings of work. The win marks his third in his last four appearances, a stark contrast for the left-hander after not being credited with one throughout the entire month of June.
“He was good in the spring, but I think that layoff from not being able to pitch at the end of his college season to the start of ours kind of hurt him a bit,” Barchus said. “We kind of stepped back, saw that he needed to work on, and then threw him back into the fire. A lot of pitching is confidence, and I think his confidence has slowly been building to the point where he’s comfortable again.”
At the back end of the pitching staff is Clark, who picked up his sixth save of the season (and fifth of the month) on Saturday despite being under the weather for a third straight day.
“Sandy (pitching coach Ian Sanderson) just asked me if I was good enough to go close it,” says Clark. “I said sure and went out there feeling a little weak, but I just allowed them to put the ball in play and let my good defense do the work behind me.”
Saturday’s victory keeps Gresham alive and well in the West Coast League playoff race, and that push will continue on Sunday evening in the middle game of a three-game set with the Elks. First pitch is set for 5:05 p.m. from Vince Genna Stadium as the GreyWolves look to sew up a series win.
The GreyWolves are on Twitter (@GreshamGWolves) and Instagram (greshamgwolves). Fans can also find us on Facebook here. To purchase tickets, apparel or hats for the inaugural season of GreyWolves play, visit www.greshamgreywolves.com or call (503) 390-2225.