ENTERPRISE — The Wallowa Valley baseball team has some momentum as it opens league play — and its home schedule — this week.
“It’s starting to, and they’re starting to come together as a team, which is good,” head coach Zack Grover said of the team’s improving play.
The Eagles have won five games in a row, and have been flat-out dominant in the last four of those games. A March 18 win at Heppner, 9-7, was the first of the season after opening losses to South Umpqua and La Pine.
The four games since have been victories where the team won by a combined score of 59-5. That includes wins of 14-1 and 18-1 at Weston-McEwen March 25, followed by a 16-2 win against Ontario March 30 and an 11-1 victory over Grant Union March 31. Those latest victories, which moved Wallowa Valley to 5-2 overall, were at the Strawberry Mountain Slugfest in John Day.
“They’re starting to hit the ball pretty good most of the time,” Grover said. “Lane Rouse hit two home runs in John Day.”
Wallowa Valley has executed better in all phases of the game in recent weeks, and the pitching numbers were much improved over the opening week. After allowing 26 runs in the first two contests — albeit against perennial 3A powerhouses — the team has allowed just 12 runs during this five-game streak.
“The pitchers are starting to come along,” Grover said. “They’re still not exactly where we want them yet. In Athena, we didn’t pitch necessarily great, kind of struggled.”
The coach did say, though, that the pitchers took another step in the right direction at John Day. Indeed, the Eagle pitching staff allowed just three runs on three hits with three walks and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings.
“The pitching was pretty good both games in John Day,” he said.
Drew Beachy and Cody Fent formed a solid 1-2 punch on the mound in the first win against Weston-McEwen and in the victory over Ontario, while three pitchers were used in the TigerScots nightcap and the rout of Grant Union — Jaxon Grover, Maclane Melville and Caden Fent against Weston-McEwen, and Grover, Melville and Blade Suto against the Prospectors.
Zack Grover said, though, that the pitching rotation isn’t fully dialed in yet. In fact, some pitchers he has wanted to see in game action haven’t been able to get on the mound because of some five-inning mercy-rule victories that have limited opportunities.
“It’s still fairly fluid right now,” he said. “We’re still trying to look for who is going to lead it, for sure. Right now Jaxon and Drew are looking like they are going to be a couple of our main throwers, for sure. Still have several guys that I haven’t been able to get game time innings going yet.”
The offense, which has been strong all season, has continued its solid output, and through seven games, the Eagles are averaging nearly 12 runs per game.
In particular, the coach said, Jaxon Grover, Rouse, Melville and Gabe Nobles are all swinging a strong bat.
“One through four, one through five, is pretty solid, and they’re putting up pretty good numbers right now,” Zack Grover said.
The coach did comment that he still wants to see the defense shored up.
“I wish we were a little bit tighter on defense. We’re still making a few errors,” he said.
Special District 3 play and an eight-game homestand begin Friday, April 7, with a doubleheader against Burns. Grover said the Hilanders, who are 1-4 overall, have gotten off to a slow start and will be anxious for a win.
“We need to definitely keep moving in the positive like we are,” he said. “Burns is going to be tough, and they’ve had a rough start to their season, so they’re going to be hungry.”
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