Cougars improve to 6-4 in league play

Fighting for playoff position in the South Region of the NWAC, Clackamas Community College’s baseball team picked up two wins against rival Mt. Hood Community College on Saturday winning 7-5 and 1-0 improving to 6-4 in league play.

The Cougars came into the weekend match-up fresh off a 4-3 loss against Clark Community College in game two of a double-header on April 10. The loss dropped Clackamas to 4-4 in league, but sophomore third baseman Nathan Loranger felt his team had yet to play their best baseball.

“I feel like we’re a really good ball club,” Loranger said. “We should have more wins and I think we’re only going to keep improving. I see guys working harder every day and getting better results.”

Clackamas struggled at the plate early in the season; with a team batting average of .221, the Cougars are third to last in batting average in the NWAC. Although the batting began slowl for the Cougars, they may be figuring it out. Loranger’s batting average is up from .200 during non-conference play, to a team leading .440. Sophomore Renner Stecki is batting .330 and leads the team in runs batted in with 6, and sophomore outfielders Andy Schubert, Grant Horwitz and Tyler Parker have all hit home runs. Hoppel said that opposing coaches have told him that Clackamas’ lineup is threatening.

“I knew it’d take a little time for them to get back in the groove,” Hoppel said. “Being in the gym, not seeing live pitching every day, you get behind the eight ball a little bit, but I’m not surprised they’re hitting well, because I know they can all hit.”

In game one of the double-header, Clackamas turned to second baseman Berry Hunt to take the mound. Making his sixth appearance as a pitcher for the Cougars, Hunt pitched six strong innings, holding Mt. Hood to two runs and striking out five.

“I left a lot of balls up, but luckily up and out of the [strike] zone and they swung and missed,” Hunt said. “I got lucky strike calls and what not. I had trouble locating, but my coaches helped calm me down.”

Offensively, Clackamas jumped on the Saints early, scoring a run on a Stecki double in the first inning and a Stecki single in the third. Jacob Kaady added two runs to the Cougars’ effort, hitting two runs batted in single with two outs in the third inning.

“I’ve always been confident that we have guys in the lineup that can score me,” Stecki said. “Or they’ll do their job to get on and the rest of the team will get those runs in.”

Mt. Hood would score a run in the fifth, but the Cougars answered when Stecki scored on a wild pitch. The Saints scored a second run in the sixth and again, Clackamas answered with two runs of their own.

Hoppel went to the bullpen in the seventh inning, calling on freshman pitcher Derek Eubanks to relieve Hunt. Eubanks started hot, retiring the side in the seventh and holding Mt. Hood to two hits and a run in the eighth inning. The young pitcher got into a bit of trouble in the final frame of game one, walking the second batter  of the inning and giving up back to back doubles that gave the Saints two more runs making the score 5-7.

“I’m not worried about [Eubanks] at all,” Hoppel said. “The games before that he’s come out and got us three outs in the eighth and he came in for the ninth and they just got him a little bit. But other than that he’s kept the ball down and he’s getting strikes so I’m not worried about him at all.”

With one out and the tying run coming up to bat, Hoppel turned to sophomore pitcher Grayson Fenwick to get the two final outs to seal the win for Clackamas. Fenwick did just that, getting a ground ball for the second out and striking out Brian Rice for the final out of the game giving the Cougars a 7-5 win.

Runs came at a premium in the second game of the double-header. With both teams combining for nine hits, it was 0-0 through four innings, though  Schubert changed that when he belted a solo home run to give Clackamas a 1-0 lead. Schubert’s solo jack would end up being the winning run, as Stecki kept Mt. Hood scoreless through seven innings, getting his second win of the season.

“I felt good the whole game,” Stecki said. “It had a good pace and it was a smooth game.”

With the two wins, Clackamas improved to 6-4 in South Region play, and the Cougars currently sit in third place. As this story went to print, Clackamas was playing game one of a five game series against Linn-Benton (22-2 overall, 9-1 in league). The Cougars travel to Vancouver April 18 to play game four of five against Clark Community College (15-9, 6-5).