By David Bashore
For the Hermiston Herald
EAGLE, Idaho Sometimes the littlest things can pay the biggest dividends.
After playing from behind in the first three games of the Buck's Bags Spring Classic, and losing all three, Hermiston's baseball team got a run in the first inning of its Saturday game against Middleton (Idaho) when leadoff hitter Holt Morris singled, stole second, went to third on a throwing error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chance Kopacz.
It wasn't all starting pitcher Bill Frost would need, but getting out in front gave the team a lot more energy than was on display in any of the three prior contests as they gutted out a 6-2 win over the Vikings to close the tournament at 1-3.
Kopacz added an RBI triple and a double and also picked up the save, making up for a lackluster defensive day at shortstop, where he committed four errors. He paid tribute to Morris' ability to get on base, as well as the offense beginning to come around after two and a half subpar performances.
"We need Holt to get on to lead off the game, because it seems that when he's able to get a hit it usually sets us up for a good game," Kopacz said. "We can hit, we just need some confidence, and need to stop striking out so much. (Hodges) is a slower pitcher, and he got me on a curveball that was low so I moved up into the box, and then he brought the ball up."
Morris finished the game 2-for-4 with that all-important first run, and made a tough sliding catch on the edge of the outfield grass to end the Middleton third inning.
Frost picked up the win by tossing six sparkling innings, conceding two unearned runs and two hits despite working out of several jams. More importantly, he got tougher on batters as the situation grew more difficult twice he allowed just one unearned run to cross the plate when several more should have.
"Yeah, we had a lot of errors, but a lot of credit needs to go to Bill for not letting them get in his head," said Hermiston coach Greg Kaatz. "He was tough even after that and bowed his neck a bit, which was a big difference."
Hermiston (5-6) committed seven errors in the game, and 18 over the four games.
But even though the team booted the ball around with regularity, it did nothing to dent the feeling that Saturday's game was going to end happily for the young men in white and purple.
"You just have to forget about it and move on," Morris said about the errors in the field. "But I was pretty confident we were still going to win."
That in itself was a far cry from the way the tournament started.
The Bulldogs didn't exactly get off to a flying start in the tournament, as it took a seventh-inning Frost single to break up southpaw Ryan Brown's no-hit bid in host Eagle's 8-0 win over Hermiston on Thursday evening. They continued to struggle on Friday in an 11-2 loss to Class 3A power Fruitland (Idaho), which was followed by an 11-6 defeat at the hands of Madison (Idaho).
"It's one thing to come out here and get beat as long as you're hustling and just being physically beat, but to act like there's no energy and you're not having any fun, that's hard to swallow," Kaatz said. "(Against Middleton) there was a lot more energy, and the early run gave us some confidence. We have some guys who can hit, but they just need to see the light at the end of the tunnel and get some confidence."
Kaatz's frustration wasn't without merit.
But the win over Middleton gave Hermiston something positive to take home from the Classic, though the players were confident that the trip would have been a benefit even if they didn't win a game. With the Intermountain Conference season looming just around the bend, that's the attitude each player wants to have to set up a successful conference run and a return trip to the state tournament.
"These teams have great kids, great hitters, great pitchers ? I don't think we're going to see very many pitchers like the ones we saw here," Frost said. "We came down here to face some quality competition, so you go into the IMC season thinking you won't see anything better than you've already seen. It kind of makes you fearless."
Said Kaatz: "We wanted to play well and we didn't, and the guys got down and it spirals after that. But there's no question we saw some good pitching here. They may not be quite as good as an IMC No. 1 but it gives the guys some confidence that they can hit these kinds of guys. Hopefully we got something good out of it."
Hermiston opens up IMC play in Prineville on Saturday, with a doubleheader against Crook County.
Eagle 8, Hermiston 0
Hermiston 000 000 0 - 0 1 4
Eagle 230 102 X - 8 6 0
Baldock and Rosales; Brown, Fahnestock (7) and Dodd. W: Brown. L: Baldock.
Extra-base hits ? 2B: Eagle, Dodd, Byler.
Fruitland 11, Hermiston 2
Fruitland 110 151 2 - 11 14 1
Hermiston 000 101 0 - 2 3 3
Flannery and Blackwell; Irwin, Blake (5) and Frost. W: Flannery. L: Irwin.
Extra-base hits ? 2B: Fruitland, Sutton, Blackwell, Wright; Hermiston, Kopacz.
Madison 11, Hermiston 6
Madison 106 200 2 - 11 14 3
Hermiston 000 051 0 - 6 10 4
Wilcox, Cook (5), Rasmussen (6) and Sutton; Morton, Rhodes (3) and Rosales. W: Cook. L: Morton.
Extra-base hits ? 2B: Madison, Rasmussen, Sutton, Hernandez, Wilcox; Hermiston, Baldock. 3B: Madison, Rasmussen, Sutton. HR: Hermiston, Kopacz.
Hermiston 6, Middleton 2
Hermiston 100 210 2 ? 6 10 7
Middleton 010 001 0 ? 2 2 4
Frost, Kopacz (7) and Baldock; Hodges and Gonzalez. W: Frost. L: Hodges. SV: Kopacz.
Extra-base hits ? 2B: Hermiston, Kopacz, Baldock. 3B: Hermiston, Kopacz.
David Bashore is the former sports editor for the Hermiston Herald. He is now the outdoors editor at the Twin Falls Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho. He may be reached at email@example.com.