Jon Flinn knew exactly what was going on.
He is a pitcher, after all.
As some of his Southern Oregon teammates walked away baffled after striking out against Chris Johnson — the Humboldt Crabs' right-hander from the University of Portland — Flinn said he understood what his counterpart was doing.
"Some of the guys in the dugout came in saying they didn't know what it was about his pitching, but he was just getting outs, just like I was," said Flinn, the RiverDawgs' starter. "Sometimes hitters come in and don't understand it, but keeping them off balance is what pitching is all about."
Johnson pitched a three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts to help lift his team to a 1-0 victory over Southern Oregon in the first game of a WCL Tri-State doubleheader at Harry & David Field on Thursday.
The Crabs used a six-run ninth inning to abruptly pull away and win a close second game, 11-5.
Flinn matched Johnson's on-mound excellence until the ninth inning of Game 1, when Justin Lamb hit the game-winning sacrifice fly with one out and the bases loaded.
Johnson's breaking ball kept Southern Oregon's hitters off balance. Flinn, meanwhile, allowed just three hits through seven innings and struck out seven in the classic pitcher's duel.
It was anyone's game until the fateful final inning. With one out, David Popkins singled to right field. Jeff Johnson, who is transferring to Oregon State University from Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., followed with a dribbler toward third base that he narrowly beat out. Next up, Andrew Ayers lined a hit off Jonah Northrop's glove at third.
Lamb flew out to shallow center field with the bases loaded, driving in pinch runner Breland Almadova for the go-ahead run.
"There wasn't any big threats throughout the game," Southern Oregon manager Chris Wolf said. "I think both pitchers did a great job containing the hitters today. It's just one of those kinds of things where (in) the last inning they come up with a couple hard hit balls. Against a good club and giving a good show, it is actually uplifting because we played tough against a tough team."
Johnson induced a flyout and fanned two batters in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the triumph. He surrendered one walk on Thursday.
"It was definitely his best outing of the year and probably one of our best outings of any of our pitchers," Humboldt manager Matt Nutter said of Johnson's performance. "Their guy just got unlucky in the ninth. (Johnson) did a great job for us tonight. Maybe he feels at home here."
The RiverDawgs have lost eight straight after being swept in a three-games series by the Folsom Pioneers and Redding Colt .45s earlier.
"Our biggest problem on the skid is when we do have a good pitcher out there doing his thing, the hitters just aren't doing theirs," Wolf said. "It is one of those kinds of things. We are in them, we just can't get that key hit when we need it."
Chris Bradshaw, Nick Rodda and Marcus James had Southern Oregon's only hits. Bradshaw, Johnny Omahen and Greg Vrooman executed a 4-6-3 double play in the top of the seventh inning.
Flinn gave up seven hits and one walk on the night.
"It is frustrating because I pitched well and thought today was one of my better outings of the whole summer," said Flinn, who fell to 2-3. "They got guys on pretty well and they are tough outs. Every time I threw a fastball, I had to put it right where I wanted it or they'd hit it hard somewhere."
But Flinn, who is transferring to Santa Rosa Junior College after a limited freshman campaign at Sonoma State University, was quick to find the bright side.
"It's all about what you do the next day, the next game," he said. "I hate losing. Then again, one of the things about summer ball is coming out here and getting better. In the long run, it's going to help me."
Omahen's two-run single in the nightcap cut the Crabs' lead to a run in the bottom of the eighth inning. But Humboldt would have the last laugh, launching a six-run attack in the top of the ninth behind Scott Heylman's bases-clearing triple and Popkins' three-run home run.
Bradshaw finished 2-for-5 with an RBI in Game 2.
The RiverDawgs (11-19, 5-15 WCL Tri-State) host Humboldt (34-6, 17-3) in a single contest at 7 p.m. today at Harry & David Field.
Humboldt 000 000 001 — 1 7 1
Southern Oregon 000 000 000 — 0 3 0 Johnson and Lamb; Flinn and Graham. W — Johnson. L — Flinn (2-3).
Humboldt 300 010 106 — 11 12 2
Southern Oregon 000 100 121 — 5 10 1
Capaul, Dingeman (8), Chamberlain (9) and Rahier; James, N. Northrop (6) and Brill. W — Capaul. L — James (2-2). 2B — H: Heylman, Rahier 2. 3B — H: Heylman; SO: Bradshaw, Vrooman. HR — H: Popkins.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail email@example.com
Close not enough for 'Dawgs
Jon Flinn knew exactly what was going on.