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It’s shaping up to be an interesting race in the American Legion’s Area III baseball standings with the top four teams all within two games of one another.

Although the season is still young, Gerding Builders of Corvallis is just trying to stay in the race.

Salem Withnell moved into a tie for first place with West Salem/Dallas on Tuesday night by downing the Marketmen, 7-3, at Hansen Stadium at Taylor Field.

“I think the parity in the league in the last couple of years has come back to all seven teams in the league have a chance,” Gerding Builders coach Kirk Myrold said. “It is early and the nice thing is, we have two games tomorrow against a league opponent to see what we can do to keep ourselves at the top of the leader board.”

Corvallis has lost two of its three games in Area III — both losses coming against the teams currently tied for first. The Marketmen are two games back in fourth place with a doubleheader coming up today at third-place Springfield, which is only a half-game off the pace.

“There are good, even teams in this league … there was six and now there’s seven with the additional Salem team,” Withnell coach Jason Searle said. “The standings aren’t really going to shake out until the end of July when all the dust has settled.”

Withnell struck right away with two runs in the top of the first on a two-run single by Jon Munson. But the Marketmen limited the damage and ended the inning when catcher Jordan Brown picked off straying base runner Cole Ferguson at second base.

Corvallis starter Garrett Miller settled down in the second through fourth innings, allowing just one hit on a bad-hop single over the third baseman’s head. But in the fifth, the Dodgers got to him and added two runs to their lead.

“We’ve kind of struggled with our bats lately but we put timely hitting together, played good defense and pitched well,” Searle said. “It’s a pretty simple formula.”

Withnell pitcher Jordan Knoll, a lefty, frustrated the Corvallis lineup with three hits and no runs through the first four innings. In the fifth, the Marketmen got back into the game with two runs.

Ethan Johnson walked and Layne Croney bunt singled to put two on with one out. After a strikeout, Stephen Coskey hit a clutch single to left to score Johnson. Then with a dangerous bat at the plate in Jimmy Cleary, Croney scored on a balk when Knoll tried to pick off Coskey at first.

The Dodgers knocked Miller out of the game in the top of the seventh after taking a 5-2 lead on an RBI single by Munson. Reliever Micah Ropp didn’t slow down the opponent, however, and Withnell added two more on RBI hits by Jake DuFault and Cody Crawford to put the Marketmen into a five-run hole.

Corvallis tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh behind the art of the bunt single. After Johnson reached on a walk, Croney, Henry Rondeau and Coskey all reached on bunt singles to produce a run with no outs. But the Dodgers avoided major damage by getting three quick outs on a hopper to first that created a force-out at the plate followed by two pop flies to end the inning.

“Knoll, he threw a great game. He was able to locate inside, outside,”Myrold said. “He got us looking on some curveballs … he’s one of the best pitchers we’ve seen this year.”

In the eighth, Jeff Hendrix out of Santiam Christian stopped Withnell from adding another run when he throw out a runner at the plate from the center field.

The two teams will meet again next week for a doubleheader in Salem.

“When we get together, throw the records out, throw everything else out,” Searle said. “It’s good hard-nosed baseball that you can expect when you play the Corvallis team.”

Salem Withnell 7, Gerding Builders 3

SALEM WITHNELL    200 020 300 — 7 12 0

GERDING BUILDERS 000 020 100 — 3 9 2

Knoll, Crawford (8) and Ferguson. Miller, Ropp (7), Cleary (9) and Brown. WP: Knoll. LP: Miller. 2B: Cleary (GB)

Hits: Withnell 12 (Giza 3, Munson 3, Crawford 2, Banta, Patterson, Green, DuFault). Gerding Builders 9 (Cleary 2, Hendrix, Croney 2, Coskey 2, Brown, Rondeau)

RBIs: Withnell 6 (Munson 3, Giza, DuFault, Crawford). Gerding Builders 2 (Coskey 2)

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