ARCATA – When you’re accustomed to the cool climate of Arcata in the summer, the best thing about a long, hot road trip to Redding and Corvallis is when the bus finally rolls back across the Humboldt County line.
After dropping the last three games of their one-and-only trip of the season, the Crabs returned to the friendly confines of the Arcata Ball Park this past weekend to take on the Solano Mudcats, and won two of the three games.
“Baseball’s a grind,” said manager Tyson Fisher. “Especially for us, being in the climate that we’re in, to go to the heat that we saw in Redding and Corvallis… I think that for us to win this series, which is what we needed to do, it says a lot about those guys.”
Things had started well on the road, with the Crabs taking the first two of three games against the Redding Colt 45s, but perhaps due in part to the triple-digit temperatures, Humboldt committed seven errors in a 10-7 loss in the series finale.
Then, playing at the very fine home of Oregon State University baseball, the Crabs failed to hold late leads in consecutive games against the Corvallis Knights, losing 4-3 on Tuesday, June 30 and 5-4 in 14 innings on Wednesday, July 1.
Looking to get back into the groove against the Mudcats, the Crabs turned to the workhorse of the starting rotation, Drew Weston.
Weston delivered in a big way, allowing just two runs – one earned – over seven innings. Yet despite his solid numbers, Weston was not in a position to earn the “W” when he departed. The Crabs’ offense had been mostly quiet, and they trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh.
But Dillon Kelley doubled to lead off the frame, and Jesse Medrano’s attempted sacrifice turned into an infield hit, giving the Crabs runners on the corners with no outs. One batter later, Ryan Dobson singled in Kelley to tie the game. The potential go-ahead run was left stranded at third, however, and the game would stay tied till there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Dan Deely gave the team and the crowd a spark by dumping a double into left field, bringing up the Crabs’ best offensive player at the midway point – Allen Smoot. He did not disappoint, launching a ball into the night sky toward the deepest part of the ballpark. As the ball found grass in deep left-center, Deely scored and Smoot found himself mobbed by his teammates at second base.
“He’s confident in his swings, he doesn’t try and overdo things,” Fisher said of Smoot. “He’s obviously got power using the opposite field, and he uses it to his advantage.”
The next day was the Fourth of July, but the packed house of 1,347 fans didn’t get much in the way of fireworks from the home team. Yes, there was Ben Petersen’s fourth-inning freeway ball, but that was about it.
While Petersen’s shot gave the Crabs a 2-1 lead, it was a short-lived one, as the Mudcats went ahead 3-2 the next inning, and then added a couple of insurance runs on a Nick Perez homer in the eighth for a 5-2 win.
On Sunday, July 5, the Crabs’ offense finally let loose. The Mudcats jumped out to an early lead, scoring three times in the first, but the Crabs quickly erased the deficit.
After a sacrifice fly from birthday boy Bobby Schuman in the first made it 3-1, the Crabs hung up a four-spot in the second. The big blow was a three-run opposite field home run off the bat of Medrano that gave the Crabs a 5-3 lead.
Two innings later, Smoot struck again. With his long, smooth, Will Clark-esque swing, Smoot cleared a logjam on the bases, crushing a three-run double to left-center to make it 8-3, part of a four-hit day for the first baseman. Those runs turned out to be the game-winning ones in a 10-7 victory to close out the weekend.
“I was very pleased with our effort (Sunday),” Fisher said. “We kind of challenged the offense a little bit, we needed to show up after (Saturday’s) performance, and they did. Smoot had a really good day, (Brad) Pluschkell had some really good swings on some balls, Medrano put a charge into one. I thought we kind of got back to our basics of being on time for the fastball, and adjusting to the off-speed, and hitting more line drives.”
Now past the halfway point of the season, the Crabs stand at 21-7, a solid number, but not quite as glistening as the 15-1 mark they started with, and Fisher knows there’s much left to be done, and that the series against the Mudcats was a step in the right direction.
“We’ve got four weekends left,” he said. “We’ve got to tidy some things up, defensively, pitching, hitting, for us to finish the way that we want to … we need to be better in certain facets of the game, and we were this week.”