The way the first inning of G.T. Blackman’s start on Monday went wouldn’t have given the indication he was about to turn in the best performance of his career.
La Grande’s senior right-hander hit two of the first three Baker batters he faced, one of which came around to score on an error to make it 1-0 early.
“My slider wasn’t really good,” Blackman said. “I was throwing it well in the bullpen, but when I got out there my slider wasn’t working for me so I had to work into that.”
Once he settled in, the Bulldogs didn’t stand a chance.
Blackman shook off the rough first inning to throw a no-hitter, recording 12 strikeouts and retiring the last 17 batters he faced as La Grande routed Baker in six innings, 11-1, in Greater Oregon League action at Optimist Field.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Blackman said of the no-hitter. “But I was here for two league wins and we got them. It was cool I could do that in the process.”
Blackman wasn’t the only Tiger to throw a gem Monday. Cody Dubray followed with an almost equally dazzling start, striking out nine batters and allowing just one hit as La Grande won Game 2 in five innings, 13-0, to complete the sweep.
“Cody got ahead of hitters consistently early in the count. He did a good job of throwing strikes early in the count,” head coach Parker McKinley said. “G.T. did a good job too. (That’s) one of the things we’ve been talking a lot about that those two did a really good job of implementing today on the mound. It was good.”
They also pulled off their respective feats on an afternoon that saw wind, rain, snow and hail.
“That’s the thing I think is the most impressive to me in that they did that while battling the snow and the hail and all that,” McKinley said. “Two very, very good performances on the mound by two kids that have been throwing well for us.”
Blackman’s early slider struggles led to the two hit batters in a 19-pitch first inning. He rallied to get two outs, but an error allowed Dawson Linscott to score.
That was all Baker managed the rest of the contest.
He finished the first with a strikeout, then went on to fan five of the next eight batters he faced as he found command of his slider and located his fastball with pinpoint accuracy.
“His fastball had really good velocity,” catcher Logan Paustian, who was behind the plate for both gems, said of Blackman. “He was painting the corners with it. He was doing everything right. His fastball was absolutely amazing.”
Blackman finished with five more strikeouts of the final six batters, including all three hitters — Justin Miller, Linscott and Hunter Hill — in the sixth.
Meanwhile, the offense got rolling in the third inning after a slow start against Baker’s Morgan Bennett. Isaac Chamberlain’s two-run double gave La Grande the lead for good. He later scored on a wild pitch and Dubray scored on a bases-loaded walk.
“I think we kind of got overly aggressive with our swings and got a little bit out of control with it,” McKinley said of La Grande’s early struggles at the plate. “Once we reeled that back in it was good.”
The Tigers tacked on three more in the fourth on an error and a two-run single by Paustian and three more in the fifth on two more errors and a Blackman RBI triple. Justin Frederick ended the game in the sixth with a walk-off RBI single. La Grande finished with seven hits, and took advantage of Baker’s wildness on the mound, registering eight walks.
While Blackman took an inning to get rolling on the mound, Dubray was on point from the start in the nightcap. The lefty struck out the first three batters he faced and five of the first six, locating his fastball well while mixing in a devastating curveball that Baker couldn’t touch.
One batter during the game, in fact, did a full 360-degree spin in the batter’s box after taking a cut at the breaking ball.
“It is difficult to follow that,” Dubray said of taking the mound after Blackman’s effort. “Coming in and striking out the side got my confidence up. My fastball had good location. (My) curveball was good.”
Jackson Rohner broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single in the third inning, but was quickly erased when the Tigers turned a slick 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.
Rohner was the only Bulldog to reach base, as Dubray coasted through the fourth and fifth, striking out the side in the final frame to finish the tidy 67-pitch effort.
Paustian said he knew Dubray was locked in early on.
Cody, that first inning (was) 1-2-3. That second inning, 1-2-3,” Paustian said. “After that you knew he was going to tear it up.”
While Dubray coasted, it was the ineffectiveness of Baker starter Sam McCauley that got La Grande going.
The Tigers scored four times in the first on just one hit, taking advantage of three walks. A wild pitch and three passed balls led to the four runs.
McKinley was surprised by McCauley’s struggles, considering him perhaps the best pitcher on Baker’s staff.
“I think he was having a hard time finding the strike zone,” McKinley said. “We didn’t help him out by chasing pitches that we shouldn’t be chasing. It was good. It was discipline at the plate.”
It got worse in the third. Blackman scored on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, Chamberlain on a bases-loaded walk and Brody Kincade scored on a passed ball. A sacrifice fly by Isaac Zamora made it 8-0 before another bases-loaded walk scored Logan Atkinson and two more runs scored on a wild pitch and passed ball.
McCauley gave up one hit in 2-2/3 innings — La Grande had just two in the game — but surrendered 11 runs with seven walks, six strikeouts, three hit batters and a wild pitch.
La Grande (10-2 overall, 4-0 GOL) finishes the first half of league play Saturday when it hosts McLoughlin.