Following a combined 1-for-6 in a loss to Henley and a close win early this week to open the series against Stayton, senior Brooks Stearns needed to find his groove at the plate.
So, the Warriors catcher hit the batting cages to try to refine his stroke. The extra work definitely had an impact with Stearns hitting .900 over the past two games, including a 6-for-6 effort in Thursday’s 9-8 win in eight innings over the Eagles.
“I’m still pulling everything pretty hard just trying to work things out early in the season,” said Stearns, who now has a .667 batting average through five games. “At least I’m hitting the ball hard now rather than just rolling over things. I’ve hit a couple the other way and it’s worked out for me pretty much every single time. … I’m focused on putting a good swing on the ball and letting the baseball do the rest.”
Stearns gave Philomath its second walk-off win of the week with a bases-loaded single to drive in Cameron Ordway in Thursday’s victory. The Warriors are off to a 3-0 start in the Oregon West Conference with the series sweep.
“I don’t care who you’re playing, to get three to start off your league season, that’s a good thing, especially with as early as we needed to start league this year,” PHS coach Levi Webber said. “It’s good to get those three games and put us in a good spot going forward.”
Philomath shot out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning on Brian McClelland’s infield single to score Michael Slater and a well-placed single down the right-field line by Dylan Bennett to score Stearns and Marshall Brattain.
But the Eagles came back to score six unanswered runs with three in both the fourth and fifth innings.
“Tonight, we just had the one bad inning that kind of let them back in the game, it was a little unfortunate,” Webber said, referring to the fourth. “But other than that, we’ve been doing a good job of picking the ball up, throwing it across, running the ball down and getting the outs we’re supposed to get.”
Philomath has really cleaned up its play on defense since the first two games of the season.
“I think we’re all starting to figure it out,” Stearns said. “We’re making a lot less errors that we did in the beginning and that’s definitely a huge part of baseball. We’ve all become better baseball players, in general, being smarter on the bases especially.”
Down by three runs, Philomath needed to respond in the bottom of the fifth. The Warriors did just that by taking a 7-6 lead and all with two outs.
After two fly balls for outs to center field, Philomath got things going when both Adam Hernandez and Ordway reached when they were hit by pitches. Calvin Snuggerud followed with a single to left field to drive in Hernandez and Slater kept it going with another single to shallow left that scored Ordway.
Stearns came up and slammed a triple over the right fielder’s head to plate both Snuggerud and Slater for the lead.
“Brooksie, he’s been swinging a hot stick all week,” Webber said. “He’s swinging with a lot of confidence right now, which is good, because we’re struggling in some other areas of the lineup. So it’s nice to know when you’ve got Brooks coming up, you’re going to get a quality at-bat out of him and if you’ve got guys on base, you’ve got a pretty good chance to pick some runs up.”
In the sixth, Philomath added another run to extend its lead to 8-6. Bennett opened the inning with a triple to right field and he scored on a Hernandez single to right. But in the seventh, Stayton’s Tanner Manning delivered a clutch two-out, two-run single to tie the score.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles escaped a bases-loaded situation to take the game into extra time.
Bennett, who had entered the game at pitcher in the seventh, set down the Eagles with a strikeout and two infield popups in the eighth. In the bottom half, Ordway walked, Snuggerud was hit by a pitch and Slater got aboard on a bunt single to load the bases and set the stage for Stearns’s game-winning hit.
Philomath went deep into its pitching staff with the third game of the series. Hernandez was the first to take the mound and he had a quality start.
“We knew we were going to have to use some arms tonight just because Adam hadn’t had a start,” Webber said. “He threw really well against Henley and I thought he was really good through four. I think he got a little bit tired when he got into the fifth.”
Webber went to Brody Hiner with one out in the fifth and he responded with a solid two innings. Snuggerud and Bennett came on in the seventh.
“Brody did a heck of a job coming in and throwing strikes and getting outs,” Webber said. “Dylan came in and finished the game and that’s Dylan’s first outing this year.”
For the Warriors, it’s a good sign that Webber appears to have options with his bullpen.
“Like I just told them, we’re going to need everybody going into next week with four games in five days,” Webber said. “We’ll need all hands on deck as far as pitching goes. It was good to get those guys out there and get them innings and get the rust knocked off a little bit.”
Hernandez allowed four hits and four earned runs with two walks and two strikeouts in 4-1/3 innings. Hiner allowed no hits, one earned run and one walk in two innings. Snuggerud allowed no hits, one earned run and one walk in one-third of an inning. Bennett closed it out with 1-1/3 innings, allowing one hit and no runs with two strikeouts. He was credited with the victory.
Besides the 6-for-6 effort by Stearns, other players with multiple hits included Slater’s 3 for 6 and Bennett’s 2 for 5.
Philomath (3-2 overall, 3-0 Oregon West) will open the Yaquina Bay Classic in Newport Monday with games at 9:30 a.m. against Douglas and noon against Estacada. The Warriors will then face Dallas on Tuesday at the tournament. Later in the week on Friday, Philomath will head up to play former conference foe North Marion.
Philomath 9, Stayton 8 (8)
Thursday at Philomath
STAYTON (2-4, 0-3) 000 330 20 — 8 5 1
PHILOMATH (3-2, 3-0) 003 041 01 — 9 15 2
DP—None. LOB—Stayton 5, Philomath 14. 2B—3B—Stearns, Bennett.
Stayton 14, Philomath 12
Thursday at Philomath
Team notes: Philomath’s JV goes to 1-4 on the season. … Individual statistics were not available. … The Warriors will play at Corvallis Tuesday for a noon doubleheader.