Moments after Irrigon finished their sweep of Vale in a baseball doubleheader, Mathew Moreno was stunned.
On Friday, the Knights defeated the visiting Vikings 6-5 and 12-2 in a pair of Eastern Oregon League games and staked their claim as the league champions, and Moreno had two walk-off singles to seal the deal.
The junior catcher drove Ryan Hussey home at the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 5-5 tie and win game one, and did the same for Joe Vandecar to invoke the 10-run rule and close game two after six innings.
“This is my first time on a league championship team,” Moreno said. “It means a lot to me. Two walk-offs — that’s crazy. I don’t know what to say about that.”
The Knights started off hot — Keith Fleming knocked an RBI single to put the team on the board, and Zack Henrichs kept Vale’s home plate untouched for five innings. He would fan 13 Vikings by the game’s end.
But Henrichs’ steady aim began to waver as he allowed three singles in the top of the sixth, and walked five Vikings in the top of the seventh to even the score.
“We’ve always been a late-start kind of team,” Fleming said. “Everyone gets quiet and feeling tired, and it was hot. Vale fought hard. They’re a great team.”
Vikings pitcher Trent Aldred didn’t have much luck on the mound, as he walked five Knights over 2⅔ innings of relief. He walked Payton Smith to push Hussey to second base, and Moreno’s single saved Irrigon from what could have been their second league loss this season.
“It meant a lot,” Moreno said of his first of two walk-off singles. “We wanted that home district playoff game. That gave us the opportunity.”
Moreno’s 2-for-4 showing at bat scored one run and two RBIs — good enough to lead the Knights’ offense in the opener.
Game two did not start in Irrigon’s favor.
Henrichs took over as catcher, and a low-flying curve ball bounced off home plate and hit him in the neck, sitting him out from the first inning onward.
Payton Smith allowed two runs to give Vale a 2-1 lead that lasted three innings.
But Fleming was right — it may have been a slow start, but a nine-run streak in the fourth inning put Irrigon ahead for the long haul.
Moreno, Vandecar, Eric Prouty, and Brady Harrington all singled to get the scoring started. Moreno’s line drive got two RBIs, and Harrington also hit a sacrifice fly to drive in two more runs.
“I told the boys, ‘Be patient. He’s going to throw you a pitch you want to hit. You’re going to hit, bunt, and steal.’ And they did all three. I’ve coached these boys since they were in Little League. I’ve been waiting for them to have their moment. I’m so proud of them.”
Five Knights singled in the bottom of the sixth, but it was Moreno’s that captured the win.
“We just played Irrigon ball like we always do,” Moreno said. “It takes a whole team to play like that. That’s how you play baseball.”
Once again, Moreno hit 2-for-4, and scored two runs and had three RBIs. He also tallied 11 strikeouts during six innings of relief on the mound. Vandecar went 3-for-3 at bat, scoring two runs and driving in another run.
With the league title in tow, the Irrigon Knights (19-4, 11-1 EOL) will host a 3A district playoff game next Friday.
The Irrigon Knights’ softball team suffered two back-to-back home losses to Vale to close out their regular season in the Eastern Oregon League.
On Friday, the Vikings defeated Irrigon 9-7 and 5-3 in two final rounds of league action.
“It was tough,” said coach Jeff Botefuhr. “We just made a few more errors than (Vale) did. That was the big difference — the little mistakes.”
Botefuhr said the losses weren’t without its silver linings, however.
“Vale usually averages one or two homers per game,” he said. “We didn’t allow them any today. That was huge. Bailey (Botefuhr), JaLay (Burns), Nicole (Phillips), and Makenna (Collins) all had great at-bats for us today.”
Irrigon held a 1-0 advantage in game one that lasted until the third inning, when Vale took over, 3-1. The Knights bounced back for a 7-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the Vikings went on a five-run streak to close the game in their favor.
Vale put up five runs in the second inning of game two, and the Knights would never recover.
The No. 4 Irrigon Knights (10-11, 7-3 EOL) travel to Nyssa on Tuesday to vie for a spot in the 3A district playoffs.