When Pendleton’s baseball team was down 5-0 at the bottom of the seventh inning, Gabe Umbarger knew risks had to be taken.
He kept that in mind as he stepped up to the plate with one out and Austin Fell on first. He smacked away a fly ball well into left field that got him to second and drove Fell home. He stole third on an error during the same play.
Umbarger scored on a wild pitch on the next at-bat, but the comeback wouldn’t be enough to overpower the visiting Southridge Suns, who survived the Bucks’ last-minute run to defeat them 5-2 on Thursday.
Umbarger said he knew he couldn’t let his team end their final preseason showing scoreless.
“You can’t just leave a guy stranded on third,” he said. “It’s not acceptable. If I see a ball go five or 10 feet past the catcher, I’m going to try and get in any way I can.”
Before Umbarger sparked the short-lived rally, Southridge shot ahead early with a four-run first inning. Aidan Morrison and Nick Grade were both driven in on Wesley Hickman’s two-RBI double on a 2-1 count. Hickman scored on Ashton Sawyer’s sacrifice fly, and Steven Englert was driven in by Austin Davis’ single.
Pendleton pitcher Chris Large struggled to contain the Suns in the first inning, allowing the four runs over five hits, and striking out just one.
“Chris is one of our go-to guys on the hill,” said Bucks coach TJ Haguewood, “but he gave them (Southridge) some opportunities to get hits off him.”
Meanwhile, Grade was resilient on the mound, striking out seven and scattering three hits and one walk over the first three innings.
The Suns are currently the top team in the Mid-Columbia Conference, and were coming in hot after two back-to-back league wins over Hermiston on Tuesday.
“Southridge is a perennial powerhouse in their conference,” Haguewood said. “It was good for us to see this kind of hitting right before we start our league.”
Both teams went without a run for the ensuing five innings. The drought came to an end when Morrison knocked an RBI double at the top of the seventh to give the Suns a 5-0 advantage.
Umbarger’s bold offensive showing in the seventh inning challenged the Suns, but Justin Duso struck out at the following at-bat, and Matt Demianew’s fly ball was snagged by Southridge left fielder Trace Hendrickson to halt the Bucks’ comeback.
“Gabe is one of our catalysts on top of the order,” Haguewood said. “It wasn’t a perfect game, but I’m glad we got it in early on. We’re always looking for things to improve.”
Southridge collected 12 hits for the day, led by Grade, who went 4 for 4 at the plate. Pendleton (3-5) tallied just seven hits and made three errors. They’ll make their Intermountain Conference debut with a home doubleheader against Crook County on Saturday.
“We had a few too many miscues that made the difference in the game today,” Haguewood said. “We’ll need to be more consistent on the mound on Saturday.”