By David Bashore
Herald sports editor
Stanfield Casey Irving and Raul Mendiola knocked in three runs apiece to help pace Stanfield to its third straight win, a 10-7 decision over Dufur on Tuesday.
The win, along with 22-1 and 21-2 wins over South Wasco last Saturday, pushes the Tigers (5-7, 3-3 Blue Mountain League) back to .500 in district play and leaves them firmly in the hunt for the third and final state playoff berth.
Junior Matt Ellis pitched six and two-thirds innings of solid baseball, giving way for Irving to get the save after a couple of mistakes allowed Dufur to close a 10-3 margin to just three runs in the seventh.
Ellis was originally only expected to go the first three or four innings before handing the ball over to Irving, but strong play from freshman shortstop Mario Madrigal who shook off early jitters to make four solid plays in deputizing for Ellis made the decision to leave Ellis on the mount longer to take advantage of his effectiveness.
"Mario was a little shaky to start with, but he really settled down well," Stanfield head coach Bryan Johnson said. "We were thinking Ellis would throw three or four innings, but he was throwing well and Mario played well behind him."
Stanfield looked to be in line for a tough day against a Dufur lineup that had knocked the cover off the ball against pretty much every team the Rangers had faced this season.
The first couple of innings, which saw Dufur scratch three runs across on hits and errors, looked to cement the prospect of a long afternoon, but the Tigers countered with a quick strike.
Stanfield catcher Mike Fisher knocked a deep drive for a double with one out in the third inning.
After a pop-up resulted in the second out of the inning, Ellis beat out an infield single and Irving reached base to set up Mendiola's three-run double.
Six runs came with two outs in the inning and Stanfield was on its way.
Josh Grabeel added two more RBI for the victorious Tigers, who thanks to a long and successful outing by Ellis were able to almost fully rest Irving, the staff ace, for Saturday's crunch doubleheader showdown with Irrigon.
Irving said he was happy to get the rest and was also glad that the middle of the lineup performed well.
"I'm glad I'll be fully rested for the game Saturday because my shoulder was bothering me for a bit," Irving said. "Our lineup is hitting pretty well, and I know we're going to get some RBI chances."
Dufur trailed by seven runs headed into the last inning, and put together a four-run rally after a couple of defensive lapses by Stanfield.
Those lapses led to a little bit of fatigue from Ellis and ultimately denied him a complete game, but Irving came in and fanned the second batter he faced to get the job done.
"I was feeling a little tired to the end, but I felt pretty good out there (on the mound)," Ellis said. "The defense had some trouble at first but played pretty well."
Stanfield looks to be coming into form at the right time heading down the stretch of the season, but they know that this weekend's games are the most crucial because they're the next ones on the schedule.
"Oh, (the games are) big time," Johnson said. "We're just trying to get better each game and put ourselves in a position (to succeed)."
The local doubleheader gets started at 11 a.m. at Irrigon's baseball field.
David Bashore can be reached at dbashore@ hermistonherald.com.