By David Bashore
Herald sports reporter
Hermiston Derek Baher pitched five strong innings to help the Hermiston Heat (1-3) to their first win of the American Legion season, 10-5 over the DeSales Merchants on Tuesday.
Baher allowed two runs, both coming on a first inning home run, and five hits over his five innings of work. He struck out five DeSales batters in his stint on the mound.
Marcelo Estrada came in to pitch the last four innings of the contest, allowing three runs on four hits and striking out seven.
Baher was helped on the offensive end by Daniel Mullay and Corey Kelly, each of whom went 2-for-3 and scored three runs.
"My job is to just get on base, whether that's walking, hitting, or getting hit by a pitch," Kelly, the Heat's leadoff hitter, said. "Sometimes I'd like to hit more, but that's not what the team wants. They want me to get on and they'll advance me over."
Hermiston scored three times in the first, second, and fifth innings, and led by as many as eight runs in the game before DeSales plated their three runs against Estrada.
Baher worked his way into and out of trouble in most every inning he threw, most notably in the third inning, when the Merchants put runners on second and third bases with no men out.
None of the next three batters could drive the runners home, however, as Baher fielded a comebacker, notched a strikeout, and induced a groundout to end the threat.
"I think I pitched pretty well," Baher said afterward. "I got into some trouble, especially in the first inning with the home run, but I got some pitches when we needed them. It takes me a couple batters to get back into it when we're hitting like we did today, and a couple of grounders here, a pop up there, and I'm back into it."
Lance Hawkins, assistant coach for the Hermiston varsity baseball team, is heading the Heat, comprised of mostly Hermiston players along with Estrada and Kyle Wilson of Umatilla, this season.
"It was nice to have some offense today," Hawkins said. "This team is going to have to play small ball, bunt, steal bases, and put pressure on other teams. We did that today, for about seven innings."
Hermiston's intensity seemed to wane in the latter stages, perhaps because of playing nine innings rather than a traditional seven, or perhaps because of the healthy lead they enjoyed.
"We need to learn to finish teams off," Hawkins said of the lack of a killer instinct the Heat showed against DeSales. "We competed well on the mound, but when it got to the seventh, eighth inning, the energy seemed to drop. In the summer time, when you're playing a lot of games and it's hot as blazes, that's when the intensity needs to rise even more."
Hawkins addressed that exact sentiment with his players in his post-game pep-talk, underscoring that several times in the year they'll be expected to play four games in two days or five games in three days.
Hermiston was to play their fifth game of the year against Hood River on Thursday night, but the game was abandoned when the visitors failed to show up at Shockman Field in time for the scheduled start.
"That's one of those things that doesn't really bother you, but it bothers you," Hawkins said. "It was a confirmed game, but we got some bullpens in, some hitting and some ground balls, and we'll get ready for Saturday."
The Heat will play four games in two days against the Seattle Warriors and the Kennewick Bandits in Tri-Cities on Saturday and Sunday.
Missing the Hood River game should help Hermiston, as all the pitchers accompanying the team to Kennewick will be well-rested.