The Hood River Valley High Eagles baseball team overcame a five-run deficit and was two innings away Saturday of winning its first Intermountain Conference title since 2017. As it was, host Pendleton came from behind to tie the championship game in the sixth inning and then won it in the seventh, 7-6.
HRV (12-3 overall) earned the No. 2 seed in the IMC District playoffs after posting an 8-2 league record. The Pendleton Buckaroos (14-3) were the No. 1 seed after compiling a 10-0 IMC mark. The top-two seeds earned a first-round bye into the semifinals,
In a May 19 semifinal versus the No. 3 seed Redmond Panthers (6-4 IMC, 8-8), HRV junior pitcher Mason Spellecy threw a no-hitter — his second this year — to help lead the host Eagles to an 11-0 win at Traner Field. It was HRV’s seventh straight win and its ninth victory in 10 games. The Eagles were clearly playing with a high confidence level and they certainly had a lot of momentum heading into the championship game.
“We left a little early with the intention of playing at noon, but then it rained, and the game was pushed back to 1 p.m.,” said Coach Erich Harjo. “Both teams worked together to try and get the field playable, which was really unique in that regard, because I’ve never really seen it at a high school game. It was a really unique look at two highly competitive clubs that really wanted to play, and they were both doing anything possible to get the game going. It was just a different kind of atmosphere.
“We just came out a little flat defensively and we had three errors in the first inning that led to them (Buckaroos) getting three runs.”
The defending IMC (2019) champion Buckaroos jumped out front early after scoring three in the first and two in the second for a 5-0 advantage after two innings.
“We gave up two runs in the second inning primarily because of a lack of execution defensively and combined with some other things, too,” said Harjo. “Being down 5-0 is difficult to climb out of. I know our club is competitive and mentally tough, so I knew that we weren’t out of it that early in the game.
“Sure enough, we got two runs, then four more to take the lead and Spellecy is rolling on the hill so we felt like we were in a really good spot.”
After a scoreless third, the Eagles started their impressive comeback effort. HRV responded with a two-run, fourth-inning rally, highlighted by senior Harrison Howell's (1-for-4, single) RBI sacrifice groundout scoring Trenton Hughes (2-for-4, two doubles), who earlier hit a double. Junior catcher Joe Reitz (2-for-4, two singles) also scored on a wild pitch to trim the margin to 5-2.
The Eagle momentum continued with a four-run, fifth-inning rally as they came from behind to take the lead. A two-RBI double by Hughes drove home junior Cole Duckwall (two walks) and senior Nate Van Dooren (1-for-3, single) and Spellecy’s (1-for-4) two-RBI single helped propel HRV in front 6-5 after five.
“Our guys competed extremely well, and they didn’t quit,” said Harjo. “Most teams when they’re down 5-0 in somebody’s else’s ballpark would usually fold. Our guys showed good resiliency and an excellent mental attitude by fighting back and putting us in a good position to possibly win and I’m very proud of them for doing that.”
Pendleton knotted it up in the sixth to set up a dramatic seventh inning. The Eagles were unable to produce any offense in the top of the seventh, setting the stage for Pendleton’s game-winning comeback in the bottom half of the frame.
“There were a couple of calls that didn’t go our way and that was very frustrating,” said Harjo. “They (Buckaroos) got runners at first and third in the sixth and then they were able to tie the game. We were getting flat offensively and we couldn’t score any runs and they had an opportunity to win it in the seventh. There were some questionable calls regarding some strike threes and some walks, too.”
After Spellecy walked consecutive batters, relief pitcher Howell went to the mound. Pendleton junior Aiden Gunter then hit a walkoff sacrifice fly game-winning RBI to lift the Buckaroos in front and get the win.
“We’ve lost a couple times that way on that field and it’s a difficult place to play at to begin with, so they (Pendleton) definitely have a certain level of comfort playing at home and they’re used to playing there,” said Harjo. “We just tried to match their effort during the game and that didn’t happen. Late in the game, you just have to play perfect though against a good team like Pendleton.
“They’re a very good ball club this year, we didn’t play perfect and that’s the way it goes. It was kind of everything you wanted in a championship game, with lots of emotion, while realizing that the game can go either way at any time.”
HRV had no problem producing runs in the semifinals win over Redmond. HRV cranked up its fifth-ranked offense (8.26 runs per game average among Class 5A teams) early to get the lead. Spellecy and Howell both hit RBI singles to help put the Eagles in front 2-0 in the first inning.
Spellecy drove in another run the easy way without even swinging his bat. He drew a bases loaded walk and Hunter Hough scored from third base on the play, to put HRV ahead, 3-0. The Eagle’s momentum continued with a four-run rally in the third, highlighted by a two-RBI double by Ryan (1-for-3) to help extend HRV’s advantage to 7-0.
The Eagles kept things rolling offensively in the fourth aided by a Redmond error. They extended their lead on an RBI single by Andy Foster (2-for-2, two singles, RBI). HRV then scored two more runs after loading the bases twice. Reitz (1-for-3, single, two RBI) and Hughes (1-for-2, single, RBI) both reached base after getting hit by pitches thrown by Redmond freshman reliever Ryker Altizer on consecutive at-bats and HRV baserunners scored both times to put HRV on top 11-0. HRV amassed 10 hits in the five-inning contest that was shortened via the 10-run Mercy Rule.Saturday’s contest concluded the Hood River Valley High School careers for seniors Sebastian Zeman, Nolan Ryan, Foster, Van Dooren, Emilio Castaneda and Howell.
“Our seniors didn’t start every game and sometimes they didn’t get lots of playing time, which is something that we would all like to see happen,” said Harjo. “They’re just a great group of guys and I really enjoyed coaching them this year and seeing them progress and be active contributors to our success. It was an emotional time for them after the game. Win, lose or draw, it’s always tough for seniors lacing up their shoes one last time in the final game of their career, but that’s part of the experience of playing on the Hood River Valley High School baseball team.”