HERMISTON — Representing the winning run in Tuesday’s season-opener against Ridgeview, Hermiston senior Slade Gritz stepped off third base to take his lead, creeping up the baseline to get every inch that he could.
“I knew we needed to score there and as soon as I got an opportunity I was going to be hauling it as fast as I could,” said Gritz.
Sophomore Jordan Ramirez was at the plate for Hermiston with two outs in the seventh inning, meaning Gritz represented Hermiston’s last opportunity to win the game without going to extra innings. And as Ramirez evened the count at 2-2, Gritz kept waiting for a chance to sprint home.
And after Ridgeview pitcher Nolan Merritt fired that 2-2 pitch toward home plate, the opportunity finally came. The pitch squirted out of the glove of Ridgeview’s catcher and rolled behind home plate, causing the catcher to have trouble locating the ball. And as soon as Gritz saw the ball squirt out of the glove, he was off, sprinting as hard and as fast as he could toward home plate where he finished off with a head-first slide across the plate to give Hermiston the 7-6 win over Ridgeview on Tuesday afternoon at Armand Larive Middle School.
It is the first season-opening win for Hermiston since 2013, when the Bulldogs took down Oregon City by the same 7-6 score and have since lost two-straight openers to Ridgeview prior.
“It feels really good to get the dub,” said Gritz, who went 0-3 with two runs scored at the plate. “The last few seasons we’ve kind of choked out of the gates and we put up a lot of runs today so it was nice.”
Hermiston (1-0) scored its seven runs on a total of seven hits and also with the help of four Ridgeview errors. Kody Moss and Wyatt Noland led Hermiston’s offense with two hits apiece, while Moss added two runs scored and an RBI. Daniel Gossler also went 1-for-4 at the plate with an RBI, one run scored and a stolen base.
“We’re 13 guys strong and that was a good team win,” Hermiston coach Lance Hawkins said. “We’re going to need all 13 guys throughout the year, and everybody played today, everybody got involved. We made our fair share of first-game mistakes, but I expect that and I’ll take a win any way we can get it.”
Hermiston had a pair of solid performances on the pitching mound as well Tuesday as the duo of Lukas Tolan and Kody Moss got the call in Game No. 1. The junior right-hander Tolan started the game and finished with three hits and three runs allowed over four innings with three walks and three strikeouts. He showed some first-game jitters to start, allowing all three runs, two hits and two walks in the first two innings, but over his final two innings he allowed just one hit with two strikeouts.
“I just tried to throw strikes and give our defense a chance to make some plays,” Tolan said of his performance. “It’s not good to walk anybody either so I tried to stay away from that.”
Moss came on in relief in the fifth inning and had some immediate struggles, allowing four-straight batters to reach base safely and eventually allowed three runs to score in the inning. But like Tolan, Moss settled in after that and shut down the Ravens. Hawkins said he was very satisfied with what the pitchers showed.
“I think with Lukas, his velocity’s up and he’ll battle a lot,” Hawkins said. “He only had like 7 innings last year, so he’s our most experience guy, but if he focuses he’ll throw well for us. And Kody coming in, his last inning was his best and that’s what you want to see.”
Hermiston’s bats went quietly in the first inning, but got something going against Ridgeview pitcher Blaine Gibbs in the second. Tolan and Gossler led off with back-to-back walks, and then a dropped fly ball from Ridgeview’s left field allowed Tolan to score Hermiston’s first run and cut the deficit to 3-1. Then after another walk, this time to Brylee Dufloth to load the bases, Gossler’s heads-up baserunning allowed him to sprint home and score on a overthrow back to the pitcher from Ridgeview’s catcher and make it 3-2.
Then Kaden Caldwell followed with a flare into right field to score Gritz and tie the game at 3-3.
Then in bottom of the fourth inning, Hermiston played add-on with an RBI double from Gossler to score Moss to give Hermiston its first lead at 4-3. The Bulldogs added two more runs in the fourth inning on an RBI single from Moss and then an RBI triple from Noland that rolled all the way to the right field fence.
“First game I think everyone had a little nervousness built up,” Tolan said of the slow start,” but we kind of worked it out as the game went on and did what we’ve been doing for years now and just had fun and played baseball.”
While reflecting on the work that his team has put in over the past month-plus, he said he is pretty pleased with what the guys showed on the field Tuesday, though he knows there is still a long way to go.
“It’s just one of 26 games,” he said, “but it’s a good start.”
RHS 210 030 0 — 6 6 4
HHS 031 200 1 — 7 6 4
B. Gibbs, E. Hockett (3), E. Remick (7) and N. Mervitt (RHS). L. Tolan, K. Moss (5) and S. Gritz (HHS). W — K. Moss, L — N. Mervitt.
2B — E. Hockett, H. Pennholla, N. Restivo (RHS). D. Gossler (HHS). 3B — W. Noland (HHS).
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.