One night after clinching the regular season title in the Great West League, the Medford Rogues changed things up against the Chico Heat on Wednesday at Harry & David Field.
With lineup moves designed to give some regulars a little rest on a sweltering night in Medford and others some well-deserved opportunities, the Rogues still found themselves on the verge of becoming the only GWL team to reach the 40-win plateau for a second straight season as they took a 6-4 lead into the fifth inning.
After that, however, Medford struggled to close out the Heat as the visitors scored eight unanswered runs to claim a 12-6 victory that allowed them to close in on a potential runner-up finish in the GWL.
“It was more trying to have fun today and get guys rest that need rest,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan, whose team dropped to 39-18. “We weren’t too worried about winning the game, or else we would’ve done some things differently. Yeah it’s a negative that we lost but there were a lot of positives out of the day.”
One big positive came from one of the smallest Rogues, at least in terms of stature, in second baseman Jayden Hanna. The 5-foot-6 Hanna laced a go-ahead two-run double in the second inning and, after Chico had tied the game at 4-all in the top of the fourth on a two-run home run by Bailey Zimmer, Hanna answered in the bottom half with his own two-run homer.
Hanna finished 3-for-5 with one run and four RBIs to raise his batting average to .314. He now has three doubles, one triple and one homer to go with 20 runs scored and 20 RBIs.
“He’s been working on trying to get a little more power out of his swing,” said Hogan. “We didn’t really need that out of his swing, because he’s a good average hitter, but it’s nice that now he’s been able to do both of that for us.”
Hanna was just as surprised as everyone when he turned on a pitch by reliever Ben Bachman with one out and Scotty Wright, who was 2-for-4 with three runs, on first base in the fourth. The ball quickly left the ballpark, smacking midway up on the second raised fence in right field.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say about that,” said Hanna of his first summer HR. “It was just a fastball inside and I just let my hands react to it. Normally I look for an opposite field approach but he left a fastball inside and it was just reaction.”
The rest of the game didn’t play out as well for the Rogues, but there weren’t many heads hanging low after the final out.
Medford next heads north for a regular season-ending three-game series with Portland (29-28). The GWL playoffs will begin immediately after that series for those same teams, with the fourth-seeded Pickles hosting Game 1 of the best-of-three playoff series with the top-seeded Rogues at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. Game 2 will be played in Medford on Tuesday and Game 3 (if necessary) also will be at Harry & David Field on Wednesday.
“We still wanted to win, that’s always a goal of ours,” said Hanna, “but tonight was really about keeping players healthy and getting some players opportunities that haven’t had as much over the season.”
That said, there’s a fine line between taking the foot off the pedal and accidentally hitting the brakes at the wrong time of the season. Assistant coach Jeff Lyle made that point in the post-game gathering with the players.
“Lyle said it best, we don’t have an on and off switch when it’s go time,” said Hanna. “Over these next three games the switch has to be on because we can’t go in all lackadaisical the first three (against Portland) and then expect all of a sudden that we’re all pumped up for Game 4 (to open the playoffs). We’ve got to consistently be energized and just come out and go hard for the playoffs.”
Chico (35-22) and Lincoln (34-33) are in a battle to determine the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage for their best-of-three series, which will run Monday-Wednesday.
The winner of each series will square off in the best-of-three GWL Championship Series Aug. 11-13.
Besides the final regular season home game, Wednesday also marked the final game for Carolyn Birch, Medford’s acting general manager for the past two seasons.
Birch had been with the Rogues for three seasons overall on a working visa from Canada but the terms of the permit ran out Wednesday and she learned last week the visa she had been trying to extend for the past 18 months or so was not approved.
“I kind of fulfilled the terms of my contract and so off I go,” said Birch. “Not being from here, there was a limited time in terms of my work period and so we’ve kind of known this time is coming. It’s unfortunate but there it is.”
The ever-upbeat Birch found herself surprisingly getting emotional at different times during the night as she thought back on her time here in Medford.
“I can’t believe the support that I’ve had within the community,” she said. “I was very blessed to be embraced and supported and I can’t even imagine my good luck in terms of the people that have been along with me on the way and all of the things that they’ve put into this to really, I think, have a fairly substantial growth over the last few years that I’ve been here.”
Birch was acknowledged before the game as well as in the sixth inning, and got a well-deserved water dousing during the post-game gathering on the field.
“Carolyn’s done a great job of running a program and keeping it going from what (initial GM) Chuck and Myra (Heeman) established and started here,” said Hogan. “She’s kind of run with the ball that they kind of handed off to her. She’s done a great job and done it without an (assistant GM) for the most part, which is hard to do, so she’s taken on a lot of the work. We’ve been fortunate to have her and we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.”
As for the short-term future, Birch said the show must go on and is confident those on staff will be able to finish off the playoffs in true Rogues spirit.
“We still have our staff here and they’re phenomenal with what they do and are committed and passionate about doing the best job they can do every night,” she said. “There’s still a game here Tuesday, there will still be promotions and food and beverages. For us, it’s really business as usual.”
Coffey, Bachman (3), Gamboa (7) and Jones, Bath (6); Konishi, Kent (6), Parr (7), Flynn (8), Pearce (9) and Yang. W — Bachman. L — Konishi. S — Gamboa. 2B — C: Tokunago, Zimmer, DeLaGuardia, Robles. 3B — C: Lemmel 2, Kelly. HR — C: Zimmer (1); M: Hanna (1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry