The Columbia Gorge Hustlers snapped a six-game losing streak on a hot Wednesday afternoon at Dufur City Park’s baseball field, defeating Hood River, 12-6 in nine innings.

The Hustlers opened their COVID-delayed 2020 season with a double-header sweep of Hood River back on July 2 at Collins Field. Two days later they won the opener of a double-header against Pendleton to improve to 3-0. But the Hustlers dropped the second game of that double-header and then lost twinbills to Bend and Hermiston and a single game to the Mavericks.

Third baseman Braden Schwartz, who contributed three hits in Wednesday’s win, said the Hustlers are gradually playing their way back into a groove.

“We didn’t have a (high school) season this year so it’s great just to get out here and play,” said Schwartz, who also scored twice and knocked in two more runs. “We’ve got a bunch of games scheduled, like almost every day. It’s just nice to get some playing time.

“We haven’t had a bunch of practices, so it’s been kind of tough to just transition from doing nothing to getting out there and playing full games. We’ll have double-headers most of the time. … You just gotta get out there and play.”

Hood River and The Dalles usually would be playing under the auspices of American Legion baseball, but the national organization canceled its 2020 season because of the COVID pandemic. Some communities are going baseball-less this summer, but others are relying on the organization of dedicated coaches and parents, in order to play ball. 

Wednesday’s game was not polished, by any means, as each team had five errors in the field — albeit a few of the miscues were because of the swirling Dufur wind which wreaked havoc on a couple of otherwise catchable popups. Hood River’s leadoff hitter Nolan Ryan scored the game’s first run after reaching base on an error, but the Hustlers didn’t blink and took the lead for good with three runs in their half of the inning.

The Hustlers outhit Hood River 14-3 and left 15 runners on base. Four Hustler pitchers combined to strike out eight Hood River batters.

“We hit the ball better, made less errors, made more plays in the field,” Riley Brock said, comparing Wednesday’s game with the Hustlers’ other outings this summer.

Brock pitched the third through fifth innings — when Hood River had one of its three hits and scored an unearned run — before finishing the game at shortstop. He teamed with second baseman Ben Schanno to turn double plays in each of the final two innings. Those defensive gems, and two more by Schwartz in the fourth inning on sharp ground balls to the hot corner, were indicators of the Hustlers’ potential.

“It’s a little tough to not practice and then go into games,” Brock said. “It takes a little bit (to get the timing down), but the more games you get, the better it will be — it’s getting better.”

Hustler leadoff hitter Jaxson Pullen also contributed three hits; Schanno and catcher Nathan Hedges had two apiece.  Schanno got things going for the home team in the first inning, when he singled to left and  advanced to third on Dominic Smith’s double. Both later scored, with Smith coming home on a Wade Fields double. Schwartz scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the sixth inning, when he tripled to deep left and raced home two batters later on a fielder’s choice by Fields. 

Hood River scored single runs in the first and third innings, and then made a mini run late with four tallies in the top of the ninth. Hood River cleanup hitter Juan Luis Jimenez knocked in his team’s first run and had two of its three hits, including a line-drive double to the left-center gap in the fourth inning. 

Michael Vander Borght had Hood River’s other hit, a two-run scoring double in the ninth.

 

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