The La Grande Tigers baseball team struggled to finish off the Ontario Tigers when they met three weeks ago in Ontario, which led to a split of the doubleheader.
There were no such issues in the rematches Friday.
“(In) those first two games we played down there we didn’t have near the energy we have now,” pitcher Isaac Zamora said. “We also learned how to finish a game, which we didn’t do down there. Everything has just been going up since then.”
Zamora and Parker Robinson both tossed complete games and shut down Ontario, and La Grande scratched out enough offense to win both games of Friday’s Greater Oregon League doubleheader, 4-1 and 7-1, to win their home openers after a lengthy season-opening road trip.
“Both those guys are really settling in,” head coach Parker McKinley said. “And they throw a lot of strikes. We’ve got good defense behind them, kids are making plays.”
The contests were entirely different than the meetings in Ontario, a 7-6 loss and a 12-10 win that saw La Grande give up nine runs in the seventh inning of the two games.
La Grande has given up eight runs total in six games since.
“Down there both games in the bottom of the seventh we struggled to finish and get that last three outs, but today everyone wanted the last out,” Robinson said. “Wyatt Earp had a great day at third and (shortstop) Justin Frederick made some great plays. Overall the team wanted the win. That’s why we were able to finish.”
The wins also resulted in a milestone as they were the 100th and 101st victories for McKinley at
La Grande, boosting his record at LHS to 101-49.
“I’ve been pretty blessed with some pretty good baseball players coming through the program,” the sixth-year coach said. “It’s been fun, all the way from 2014 having a group that won a couple playoff games and got things going to having some years with some pretty phenomenal success and kids that show up and want to work hard. It’s fun to have little milestones like that.”
“Knowing we were able to be a part of that fills our hearts,” Robinson added of the 100th win. “It was pretty cool.”
And like many of the previous 99, the tried-and-true recipe of pitching and defense was on full display in both contests.
“When you have confidence in your defense to be able to throw strikes it goes such a long way, and both of those guys are doing a really good job for us,” McKinley said.
Ontario loaded the bases with one out in the first inning of the opener against Zamora, but the senior forced a flyout and a groundout to get out of the jam, then found a groove as those two outs started a string of nine batters in a row he retired.
I just got in the zone, knew I had to throw strikes and trusted my defense.”
And when Ontario finally did break the streak with back-to-back singles in the fourth by Nick Esplin and Jake Hartley, Zamora responded with back-to back strikeouts to end the inning.
Meanwhile, La Grande took the lead for good on a two-run double by Robinson in the third inning, then added a run in the fourth when Brody Kincade doubled and scored on a wild pitch and in the sixth on a Kyler Malone RBI double.
Putting pressure on defense is what we have to do,” McKinley said. “We have to put the ball in play and get pressure on guys in situations that we can have a favorable outcome, and we did that.”
Ontario caught a tough break in the fifth when it had a run wiped off the board after an appeal. With two on and nobody out, Chance Palmer doubled in a run, but Colton Seal got caught in a rundown and was thrown out at home. La Grande then appealed that Israel Rodriguez, who had scored on the double, didn’t touch home on the play. Rodriguez was ruled out, and the run taken off.
Ontario finally got on the board in the seventh on a Seth Forsyth RBI single.
Zamora walked two, struck out five and allowed one run on eight hits for the complete game.
Robinson was as good in the nightcap, if not better, giving up just one run one two hits and striking out seven.
“Just throwing strikes,” Robinson said of the key for him. “I’ve got a great defense. We’re up there with the best middle-infield in the state, and being able to rely on them makes you a lot more confident.”
Zamora’s RBI single in the first quickly gave La Grande a 1-0 lead, then an error-filled fourth led to four unearned runs. Three of the four runs in the frame, in fact, scored on an error, and Robinson added an RBI double.
Ontario got on the board in the fifth on Esplin’s RBI groundout, but Justin Comfort and Justin Frederick responded with an RBI double and an RBI single, respectively, for the final margin.
La Grande (11-6 overall, 7-1 GOL) travels to Hermiston today before hosting Baker Friday. A split would give the Tigers the GOL title and the top spot, as it would also give them the tiebreaker over Baker.
“Those are going to be two big games. We’ve gotta be ready for those,” McKinley said.