Heat burns Blazers with late rally

Hermiston’s Nychal Gritz receives a throw and goes to tag out a Milton-Freewater base runner durin the Heat’s 11-10 come-from-behind win over the Blazers on Sunday at Weber Field.

After losing the season opener, it looked the Hermiston Heat would drop both games of the doubleheader with Milton-Freewater on Sunday. Then the fifth inning came.

The Heat, a “A” American Legion club, turned a 7-1 deficit into 7-6 during the frame, which allowed them to complete the comeback, 11-10, with a walk-off double by Michael Moya.

Hermiston lost the opening game, 4-2.

“It was ugly,” Heat head coach Brent Mattson said. “After the first game, we said it would be interesting to see how the boys would bounce back.”

Entering the final frame trailing by a run, the Heat needed just one hit to end up winning the ballgame.

Heath Baldock was hit by a pitch, then Sean Smith walked to put the winning run aboard. After an Austin Kopacz fly out to center field for the second out, the left-handed hitting Moya smashed an offering deep into the left-center gap to plate both runners.

Milton-Freewater jumped out to a big lead after the first inning, and pitcher Alex Ortiz kept the Heat in check for the early portion of the ballgame.

“He [Ortiz] was doing some good things on the mound for them,” Mattson said. “We had a bad approach for the first half of the game, and some of the kids hadn’t played for two or three weeks, so we’re just trying to knock the rust.”

It seemed like the rust at the plate wore off pretty fast when the fifth inning rolled around. After a Baldock double in the left field gap, Smith laced a double down the left field line to score a pair. Kopacz followed with a RBI-double then Moya chipped in with a RBI-single.

Jesus Rosales hit a deep sacrifice fly ball to bring the Heat within a run and in perfect position to finish off the come-from-behind win.

While the program is based in Hermiston, the Heat is made up of players from Boardman, Irrigon and Umatilla, as well as the Hermiston bunch. Mattson said the team only had three practices together before the twinbill, so getting the newcomers to learn his system will take a little time.

“I’ve been talking a mile a minute,” Mattson said. “We’re trying to get as much information we can to them in the shortest amount of time.”

The Heat is one of three ballclubs in the Hermiston summer program. The “AAA,” or senior, American Legion team is making a return this year after not competing for a few years. Eligible players can be up to 19 years old for that team, which will feature some of the area’s best talent like Hermiston outfielder Jeremy Holden and Stanfield superstars Quin Grogan, Derek Monkus and Trey Blevins.

The team will also bring back the name of the first American Legion to play in Hermiston, the Spuds. It will be coached by Trever Summers, a former assistant at Hermiston and now an assistant for the Class 2A state champion Stanfield Tigers.

They will travel to Walla Walla for a 9-inning game at 6 p.m. Wednesday, then will play their first home game at 2 p.m. Saturday against the same team.

The other club isn’t necessarily an American Legion team, but more a developmental team. It’s a 16-and-under team called the Hermiston Shockers, and it’s filled with most of the players from Hermiston High School freshman program, along with some of the junior varsity players.

They open their season this weekend at the Walla Walla Tournament.

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