HERMISTON — With an inexperienced pitching staff, the Hermiston baseball team has had its fair share of growing pains this season.
The majority of Hermiston’s pitchers had never thrown a varsity inning prior to this season, which meant a lot of learning what it takes to be successful at that level. The biggest thing that has plagued the Bulldogs so far is inefficiency on the mound, often times falling below 50 percent strikes thrown which results in a high number of walks, hit-by-pitches and extra bases to runners.
But on Tuesday afternoon at Armand Larive ballpark, two of the younger pitchers gave coach Lance Hawkins something to smile about. Junior righty Caden Schwirse gave the Bulldogs five solid innings from the start and sophomore Jordan Ramirez threw two scoreless innings to save a 4-2 Bulldogs victory over the Hood River Valley Eagles.
Schwirse, making his fourth appearance on the mound this season, allowed six hits with two runs and one earned to go along with three strikeouts. He was very efficient as well, only walking two and throwing 74 pitches in his five innings and he threw just over 54 percent strikes.
“I don’t want to just give away free runs,” Schwirse said of his efficiency. “I wanted to make them put the ball in play and see what my defense could do.”
Schwirse’s only runs allowed came in the fourth inning when seven Eagles came to the plate. Three Eagles reached via hit and one walked, with the runs scoring on an RBI single by Lucas Viuhkola and on a Hermiston (7-9, 1-2 CRC) fielding error. He worked out of a few jams as well, stranding two runners in the first and working around a leadoff double in the third inning.
“Great pitching, I mean great pitching today,” Hawkins added. “It helps when you’re around the plate with your pitches. We weren’t falling behind and when you’re up early you can go with a second or a third pitch, and I think the guys did a good job of competing on the mound and that’s what we need.”
On the offensive side of things for the Bulldogs, the bats were kept relatively quiet by Eagle pitching. Hermiston registered five hits spread in the first and third innings, and had four innings where the team was retired in order.
But in the first inning, back-to-back singles by Ramirez and Wyatt Noland plus a walk by Lukas Tolan loaded the bases. Slade Gritz stepped in with one out and sent a fly ball into left field that was deep enough to bring home Ramirez on a sacrifice fly and a 1-0 lead.
And then in the fourth, Hermiston again loaded the bases with back-to-back singles by Ramirez and Noland followed by a hit-by-pitch for Tolan to bring Gritz to the plate with one out. And again, Gritz came through with a first-pitch double that rolled to the fence in left field to drive in three runs for a 4-0 Hermiston lead and further solidifying his spot as Hermiston’s ‘Mr. Clutch.’
“I’d want any of my guys up there but it seems like Slade is the one that gets there and always gets the big knock,” Hawkins said of the senior. “He’s just a confident kid and I’ll take that every minute of every game, a guy that comes up and takes a deep breath and just does it.”
After Schwirse departed the game, Ramirez came on worked himself out of trouble. The first Eagle batter he faced reached on an error and then a two-out walk set up a first-and-third situation with two outs, with the run on first representing the tying run. But Ramirez escaped with an easy fly out to centerfield to keep Hermiston on top.
Ramirez finished off the game in the seventh with two easy groundouts and an easy fly ball to left field for the final out. Hawkins said that this win could be a launching point for his Bulldogs.
“We know we can compete with teams like Hood River,” Hawkins said. “They’ve been very, very successful and it’s good to get this one and the kids will build on it. Now we’ll worry about getting the first one with The Dalles.”
Hermiston will head on the road again for a doubleheader at The Dalles on Saturday at Noon.
R H E
HRV 000 200 0 — 2 6 2
HHS 103 000 X — 4 5 2
(HRV) A. Cameron, I. Enriquez (4). (HHS) C. Schwirse, J. Ramirez (6) and S. Gritz. WP — C. Schwirse, LP — A. Cameron.
2B — I. Enriquez, C. Coerper (HRV); S. Gritz (HHS).
Contact Eric at email@example.com or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.