The Dalles The season-high seven-game winning streak may be gone, but there are reasons for optimism for the Columbia Gorge Hustlers in the 2013 summer campaign.
In a Wednesday double dip, the Hustlers battled against the 18U Athletes in Motion team and salvaged an impressive series split in American Legion hardball action at Quinton Street Ballpark.
Entering the opening game, the Hustlers came back from deficits of 6-2 and 7-3 with four runs in the sixth frame and added a walk-off RBI double by Justin Sugg to chase home Austin Wilson and pull off an 8-7 triumph.
“This team is relentless. They have a lot of heart,” said Hustlers coach J.R. Runyon. “They rallied, they had each other’s backs and they came out competing from the get-go until the end of the game. They have done that all season for us.”
Connor Mathisen and Nick Weekly drove in two runs apiece to even the count at 7-apiece through six.
After holding ATM off the boards in the top half of the seventh, the Hustlers forged a one-out rally.
Wilson roped a double to right field and then Beaux Watt received a free pass to put two runners on base with one out for Sugg.
Before his clinching at-bat, Sugg received a few nuggets of advice from renowned hitting coach Doug Sawyer.
Sugg said that Sawyer told him to look dead-red on the first pitch and to look in one spot and one location.
If the pitch was not to his liking, then he should lay off and wait until the right pitch came along.
The switch hitter, swinging from the left side, roped a 0-1 pitch to short left field and Wilson coasted home without a throw to score the game clincher.
Getting the hit was especially pleasing for Sugg since he had been riding a little cold streak from the box.
The Dalles Wahtonka High School graduate said he had been pulling off the ball in his swings, so he went with the fastball on the outside edge and punched it to left.
“I am getting back in a groove though. It helps that I got this hit in this situation,” Sugg said. “Walk-off hits are always awesome. It just pumps you up and gets you more excited. It feels like you are on top of the world for the next game.”
Hustler coach J.R. Runyon threw out his top trio of southpaws for the seven-inning marathon.
Wilson got the start, Clayton Ringer tossed the fifth and sixth frames and Mathisen shut down Athletes in Motion with a scoreless, one-hit seventh inning to notch the win.
“They all did a great job,” Runyon said. “Mathisen came in and shut the door for us. That was great to see him stepping up and competing and being that bulldog out there that we needed.” Offensively, the Hustlers reeled off 13 hits and seven different players scored runs.
Sugg went 2 for 4 with two runs, one RBI and a walk to pace the offense.
Mathisen had two hits and both Weekly and Steven Bartells checked in with two hits and two RBIs each.
From the No. 9 position, Wilson went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and a sacrifice.
For both games, the 7-8-9 hitters went a combined 8 for 22 with five runs, a walk and an RBI.
Watt was very pleased to see that kind of production and commended that group.
“Feels really good to know that the bottom half of our lineup can carry the load when the top half is not performing its best,” Watt said. “At the end of the game, we had the bottom half get on base and top half got them in. It is a good feeling to know that we are strong all the way through and everybody is confident.” The run ended in the nightcap, as the Athletes in Motion team twice came back from deficits and erased a 7-6 shortfall with three runs in the top of the sixth inning to inch away with a 9-7 win and a split.
Down 6-4, the Hustlers scored three runs on two hits and two walks and an error.
After a leadoff single, Watt walked and Sugg singled to load the bases. Mathisen had an RBI walk; Lucas Denney drove in a run and Weekly capped the frame with an RBI groundout to move the Hustlers ahead by a 7-6.
The lead lasted until the top of the sixth when ATM scored three runs on three hits and a walk.
Looking up at a two-run deficit, the Hustlers had two more chances to cut into the lead, but were retired in order in the sixth. They had a chance to even things in the seventh frame after a two-out single brought the tying run to the dish.
On the first pitch to Watt, the leadoff hitter, he bounced into a groundout to third base for the final out.
Mathisen led the offense with two hits and four RBIs, and Denney tacked on a hit and two RBIs.
Watt and Sugg had a hit and scored twice. Weekly drove in a run and Clay Copper went 1 for 4 with a run.
The Hustlers left nine runners on base.
Colton Walker was tagged for the loss, as he tossed three innings of eight-hit ball with no strikeouts and two walks. Of the six runs allowed, three were earned.
The Hustlers play a doubleheader at 3 p.m. Friday in Redmond, and then they are in Tigard for a nine-inning matchup versus the 19U Lobos starting at noon.
This Saturday and Sunday, the Fort Dalles Hustlers play host to Hillsboro in a pair of nine-inning tussles.
Saturday, the action kicks off at 1 p.m. and the final day has a start time slated for 2 p.m. at Quinton Street Ballpark.