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Molalla's baseball team handed Crook County its first league loss 9-6 after seven innings

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: LON AUSTIN - Molalla senior Braden Hibbs crushes a pitch from Crook County, and helped get his team the W against the top team in the league, 9-6. The Molalla Indians came from behind Monday afternoon in Prineville to take a 9-6 victory over the Crook County Cowboys.

Things couldn't have started worse for the Molalla Indians.

After going down in order in the top of the first inning Indian starting pitcher Matt Roark gave up a home run to Crook County's Josh Norris on his first pitch of the game.

However, Roark battled back, retiring the next three batters in order.

The Indians loaded the bases in the second inning, with just one out, but Crook County starting pitcher Kyle Knudtson struck out A.J. Deardorff and Brandon Palmer, to get out of the jam without giving up a run.

After Crook County scored a pair of unearned runs in the second inning the Cowboys led 3-0 and it looked like the game might be a blowout.

"You have got to absolutely bow your neck and have a lion's heart," Molalla head coach Jim Dantona said of Roark's performance. "I've got to tell you, even in the big leagues and the minors, which I'm very familiar with, you give up a homerun on your first pitch and that can really bring you down a lot. But he got stronger as he went on and I was really proud of him."

With Roark pitching stronger, and Knudtson struggling to throw strikes, the Indians battled back into the game.

With one out in the third, Kolten Jordon earned a walk. Then Knudtson hit Braden Hibbs with a pitch, putting runners on first and second. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, before Linden Mackenzie hit a ground ball to second, scoring Jordon. Mckenzie was out at first on the play for the second out of the inning.

Once again, Knudtson struck out the next batter he faced, to get out of the inning.

Then came the turning point of the game. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: LON AUSTIN - Molalla sophomore Damian Pingo connects on a swing that would hit Crook County's second baseman in the face and force him from the game.

Damian Pingo hit a hard shot toward second baseman Diego Smith. It looked like it would be a routine out, but the ball took a bad hop, hitting Smith in the face. Smith grabbed his face and fell to the ground as Pingo reached first.

Smith was removed from the game and replaced by Riley Forman.

A Roark single to right field put runners on the corners before Knudtson struck out Deardorff. A walk by Palmer loaded the bases. With Knudtson struggling to throw strikes, Dylan Wynn walked, scoring Molalla's second run of the game.

Then Jordon hit into a fielder's choice. Wynn was out at second, but Roark scored tying the game. Hibbs and Mackenzie then both singled scoring two more runs as the Indians took a 5-3 lead.

With Roark keeping the Cowboy batters off balance, Molalla looked like they were in control of the game.

"I pretty much turned the other page," Roark said after his rocky start. "The coach always tells us to turn the other page if something goes wrong or if you make a mistake, so I just flipped the page and moved on."

Augustus Williams came in to relieve Knudtson on the mound for the Cowboys in the fifth inning.

Williams hit the first batter he faced, then Roark hit a towering popup, which was dropped by Crook County catcher Heath Pickhardt. Then with two outs and runners on second and third Wynn hit a routine ground ball to Forman, who flipped the ball underhand to Crook County first baseman Garrett Bernard for what should have been the third out of the inning. However, Forman threw the ball over Bernard's head as two runs scored.

With one out in the bottom of the sixth inning Jacob Kasberger ripped a double to deep center field. Then, Roark began to have control difficulties. First he walked Bernard, then Payton Faust to load the bases.

Norris ground out to first, but a run scored on the play before Forman hit a double scoring both Bernard and Faust to make the score 7-6 Molalla. Roark then forced Pickhardt into a fly out to center field to end the inning.

"Coming back in the sixth was big," Crook County head coach Frank Martinez said. "It was big for us to come back, but those errors killed us."

Although the play looked routine, even that turned out to be controversial as Crook County claimed that Roark was over his allowed pitch count before he pitched to Pickhardt.

"He did a good job," Martinez said of Roark. "He kept us off balance and I think we got anxious and we started chasing everything trying to hit the ball."

An error by Crook County shortstop Payton Faust put Roark on first to start the seventh inning. Williams then walked Deardorff. Palmer then executed a perfect sacrifice bunt, advancing the runners before Wynn hit a ground ball to Forman, who once again threw the ball over Bernard's head at first, scoring Molalla's final two runs of the game.

With Roark over his pitch limit Jordon came in to pitch in the bottom of the seventh.

Roark struck out seven in six innings of work, while giving up four earned runs. Meanwhile, Knudtson struck out five in his 4 innings, giving up just one earned run. Errors were costly for the Cowboys the entire game as just one of Molalla's nine runs was eanred.

Brody Connell, the first batter he faced hit a hard single to right, but Connell was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.

Carson Smith then popped out to short before Jordon walked Hunter Bishop. Then Kasberger hit a hard line drive straight at Hibbs at second base. Hibbs caught the ball for the final out of the game as the Indians picked up a hard-earned win.

"This win was huge," Dantona said. "We were 0-4. We're a good young team. You know we are good, but we are young, so we make mistakes that you don't get from older ball players. Our guys all contributed. We made some nice plays, some good baserunning and a couple of key bunts."

Dantona added that Crook County is always a tough game because they have good disciplined players who are well coached.

"Crook County is always a tough victory for us," he said. "We were fortunate today. We play again on Wednesday and we hope to do it again then, but it could turn around."

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