The La Grande Tigers baseball team was just one win away from locking up the Greater Oregon League title.
Instead, the visiting Baker Bulldogs exacted a measure of revenge for an earlier home sweep suffered against their rivals, using two strong pitching efforts to hand La Grande a rare home sweep, winning at Optimist Field Friday, 3-2 and 7-0.
“(Baker pitchers) Sam McCauley and) Connor (Lay) did a good job on the mound. They swung the bats well, and put pressure on us. Unfortunately we made too many mistakes and couldn’t bounce back from them,” LHS head coach Parker McKinley said.
In the process, Baker not only thrust itself right back in the mix for a league title, but now owns the tiebreaker should Baker and La Grande, who are both currently 7-3 in GOL play, finish tied. The tiebreaker, according to McKinley, is head-to-head runs allowed between Baker and La Grande. In the four games, La Grande surrendered 16 runs, while the Bulldogs gave up 15.
The Tigers have a home doubleheader remaining against McLoughlin in GOL play, and Baker travels to Ontario for its final league set.
La Grande would need a sweep and a win by Ontario, or a split and an Ontario sweep, to claim the league’s top seed into the playoffs.
“We need Ontario to beat them now,” McKinley said.
The Tigers, who were playing clean baseball during an eight-game winning streak that ended Friday, struggled on defense, committing a combined six errors in the contests, several of which proved to be costly. Two LHS errors in the fourth inning allowed what proved to be the winning run to score, and the Tigers committed three more errors in the nightcap, which led to three unearned runs.
“That was uncharacteristic of our defense to make that many mistakes,” McKinley said. “We can make that a focus and keep moving forward.”
La Grande also missed out on scoring opportunities it would typically cash in on, perhaps none more indicative of the way the day went than in the fifth inning of the opener. Devin Bell singled and Justin Frederick walked to open the frame. But McCauley, who threw a two-hitter in the win, fielded a Wyatt Earp bunt and threw out Bell at third, then struck out Parker Robinson looking and forced Isaac Zamora to fly out to end the threat.
“We had several opportunities to play some small ball, move some guys around, and couldn’t do it. We got a clutch hit from Riley (Miller) in the first game to score two runs and then couldn’t string too many more hits together,” McKinley said.
La Grande had taken a 2-1 lead in the second when Miller hit a two-out, two-run single, but Baker evened the score in the third on a Lay RBI single.
McCauley’s effort on the mound — four walks, 10 strikeouts, two unearned runs on two hits — left Zamora taking a tough-look loss. The senior pitched 6-1/3 innings, allowed three runs — two earned — on eight hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
The nightcap got away from La Grande early, with Mason Van Arsdall’s two-run single in the first before Logan Brashler’s RBI single and an error put Baker up 4-0.
The Tigers had only five hits in the second game.
Robinson threw six innings in a losing effort, striking out 12 batters and walking three while allowing seven runs — four earned — on five hits.
Lay struck out three and walked just one in the shutout, the first time LHS has been blanked in more than three years.
“We take from this what we need to do, work on getting better Monday (at practice) and come back strong,” McKinley said.
The Tigers (12-8 overall) host Irrigon in a nonleague affair Tuesday.