Cole Carder has spent more time at Harry & David Field than anyone else in the lineup for Tuesday’s Great West League opening night, so it seems fitting that he made himself at home in his debut for the defending champion Medford Rogues.
Carder, who starred for South Medford High and the Medford Mustangs, provided a big spark against the visiting Lincoln Potters, going 2-for-3 with three runs and three RBIs to get the Rogues’ 2018 off to a bang in a 10-2 triumph in front of a crowd of 1,217.
“I was really comfortable out there,” said Carder, who played this spring at Linn-Benton Community College. “I thought I was going to be a little nervous with the expected amount of fans but it was just another game, really. Honestly I felt really comfortable. The guys are a cool group of guys so it was really easy to play with them.”
The second game of a three-game homestand with Lincoln will be at 6:35 tonight, and the Rogues have plenty to build upon from Tuesday’s contest.
“I’m very happy with the way the guys played tonight,” said first-year Rogues manager Tyler Graham, who will miss the rest of the series as he returns to his assistant coach’s role at Oregon State. “We’ve got a lot of kids that love to play baseball and love to win so I’m excited for this group of guys.”
With South Medford and the Mustangs calling Harry & David Field home, Carder was at ease roaming center field for a few running catches but where he truly made his mark was at the plate. He walked and scored in the third inning, ripped a two-run double and later scored on an error in the fourth and tacked on an RBI single and run scored in the sixth to break the game open.
“Cole plays for one of my good friends and former teammates Ryan Gipson at Linn-Benton and they just came off a tremendous year and he was a big reason for that success,” said Graham. “He just kind of carried that into tonight and we’re looking for him to have a big season for us.”
Carder got plenty of help offensively, with Joe Bath going 2-for-5 with three RBIs and former Mustang and North Medford standout Tate Cowden going 2-for-4 with two runs.
All the offense was fun for the Rogues fans but not completely necessary for Medford starter Kolby Button, who was stellar in his debut in allowing two runs on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk in seven innings. Chase Spinning gave up two hits in two scoreless innings of relief for the Rogues.
“My team behind me made every play that was hit towards them and I just felt good,” said Button, who came to Medford from Shasta College. “My arm was feeling good, my slider was feeling good, my curveball was feeling good everything just felt pretty good. Especially with the team behind me I just knew I had the confidence to get it done with them.”
Given the transitional nature of any GWL franchise early in the season, what Button was able to provide the Rogues in the opener was invaluable.
“Anytime you can get a pitching performance like that early in the season when we’re obviously short on arms before everyone shows up and save the bullpen is huge for us,” said Graham. “We couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Button was staked to an early lead when Bath, who played for the Chico Heat last year, ripped a two-run double to plate Josh Congdon and Josh McIntyre in the bottom of the first inning.
“Even with the Beavers, when we score early it’s usually a pretty good offensive game,” said Graham of the quick start. “Those first few runs are always the toughest so when you get on the board early and have a big hit, it always helps out momentum for the rest of the game.”
The Rogues’ lead moved to 3-0 when Carder scored on an error in the third, but Lincoln came back with an answer in the top of the fourth inning in the only frame Button didn’t control.
A leadoff double by Isaiah Garcia was followed by RBI singles by Joe Starick and Dylan Smethurst for the Potters.
All that Lincoln’s surge really served to do, however, was fire up the Rogues, who scored seven unanswered runs thereafter to break open the game. In that span, the Potters also committed three of their five errors.
“We were fortunate to take advantage of some of their errors in the field tonight but that’s what good teams do, they take advantage of the other team’s mistakes,” said Graham. “I couldn’t be happier with how the guys played tonight.”
With Cowden and Chad Pike on base in the bottom of the fourth, Carder came through with his first Rogues hit on a two-out, two-run double for a 5-2 advantage.
“It felt good to deliver there,” said Carder. “I was really early on the changeup all day but I kind of got a fastball and I was still early but I wasn’t that early on it so it was good. It was off the end of the bat but I’ll take it.”
Consecutive errors by Lincoln allowed Carder to score and make it 6-2 to end the four-run fourth inning.
In the sixth, Medford put up four runs, highlighted by an RBI single by Carder and ground-rule RBI double by Bath to right-center.
“Usually the first night’s a little slow for any team coming together for the first time,” said Carder, “but it’s good to see us putting up runs right away. Hopefully we can just keep it going.”
And in any sense, that’s exactly what the Rogues hope to do this summer as they strive for their third straight trip to the GWL Championship Series and another trophy.
It was hard for Button to not take Tuesday’s moment to heart as the Rogues made their 2017 championship trophy available for all on hand to take photos with prior to the game.
“That was very exciting to get a win for them,” said Button. “I knew I had to live up to an expectation because they won (the championship) last year and I really wanted to do good tonight. I’m really excited with the outcome today because of how they finished last year.”
Gillman, Perkins (6), Ruoff (7) and E. Garcia, Morley (7); Button, Spinning (8) and Bath. W — Button (1-0). L — Gillman (0-1). 2B — L: I. Garcia; M: Bath 2, Cowden, Carder.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry