Titans vault into first place after splitting series with Penguins
Sometimes, home field advantage means absolutely nothing.
After a bizarre weekend in which they split a four-game series with the Clark Community College Penguins, the Titans managed to emerge in sole possession of first place in the NWAACC Southern Region.
Lane lost two home games on April 18, but bounced back the next day when they traveled two hours to Vancouver, Wash., and stole two games back from the Penguins.
“It was so weird to be beaten so badly Friday at our own place and then do the same to them over there the next day,” Lane head coach Josh Blunt said. “It was so vital to at least split Saturday to at least keep ourselves in contention.”
Lane entered the game with an 8-3 record in Southern Region play and trailed the Southwestern Oregon Community College Lakers by one game before Friday’s first pitch.
However, it was a disaster from the start in game 1.
The Penguins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the second inning and scored two runs on a squeeze bunt that sophomore first baseman Jarren Goddard misplayed.
Two more Penguin runs scored in the fifth inning ending sophomore starting pitcher Jared Priestley’s day, and inevitably, the Titans’ hope of taking the first game. Priestly finished the game with eight earned runs on nine hits in five innings of work.
“He was a little bit up today, and we just didn’t play very good catch on top of it,” Blunt said.
Freshman catcher Kyle Beam scored the Titans’ only run of the game in the bottom of the fifth when he launched a solo home run to left-center field, his first of the season.
Penguin ace Travis Eckert earned the win in Clark’s 10- 1 trouncing of the Titans. Eckert threw a complete game and struck out three while surrendering 10 hits.
“He’s the best guy we’ve faced this year by far,” Blunt said.
Lane sophomore Eric Ruaro got the start on the mound for the Titans in the second game.
The righthander was solid over six innings, surrendering four runs while giving up five hits and one walk.
After trailing all game, the Titans saw the opportunity to claim a dramatic comeback with their last three outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Three consecutive Titans drew walks to load the bases, putting all the pressure back on the Penguins.
Montague then struck out looking on a late-breaking curveball, bringing up Smith, the Titans’ second-leading hitter.
Smith grounded to Clark second baseman David Mason, who turned a quick double play, with the throw narrowly beating out Smith at first to end the game, giving the Penguins a 4-1 win and completing their sweep of the day.
“The way they played today, they’re as good as anybody I’ve seen all year,” Blunt said. “They played our style of game today. They put all the pressure on us.”
The next day was a completely different story.Blunt deployed two of his more talented arms to start each game in sophomore Jeff Hardy and freshman Jackson Bertsche, and both came through with strong outings.
Hardy threw 5.1 scoreless innings and allowed only four hits in the Titans 13-1 beat down of the Penguins in Game 1.
All nine Titans starters reached base at least once, and Montague and Goddard led the way for Lane.
Montague was 3-for-5 and scored twice, and Goddard went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. In Game 2, Bertsche came through with a breakout performance in his strongest showing of the year. He held the Penguins to just one run and two hits in five innings of work and struck out four batters.
“Being able to throw him on the back end of a four-game series, the odds are pretty good if he pitches like that.” Blunt said.
Lane freshman Forrest Garcia led the Titans on offense. He drove in two runs and went 2-for-3, shooting his average up to .288 for the season.
Lane now sits at 10-4 in regional play and find them- selves in sole possession of first place, despite their tumultuous start to the weekend.
Lane will take on the second-place Lakers in a four-game home and away series next week, with the first two games set for April 25 in Coos Bay, and the second two in Eugene on April 26.