NORTH BEND — There’s a saying in baseball that often a walk is as good as a hit.
That was never truer than for North Bend’s baseball team Thursday, when Corbin White drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Bulldogs a 7-6 win over Ashland in the second game of their Midwestern League doubleheader at Clyde Allen Field.
The win gave the Bulldogs a split of the twin bill and kept their playoff hopes alive at least for another day.
As it turned out, it was only one day. North Eugene eliminated North Bend from the playoffs by beating Churchill 6-5 on Friday. The Bulldogs and Highlanders ended up tied for fifth place at 7-9 in league play, but North Eugene swept North Bend, giving the Highlanders the nod.
North Eugene and Churchill only got in one game Thursday, and Churchill won that.
North Bend and North Eugene had been tied with Willamette for fifth place. The Wolverines were swept by Crater in their doubleheader Friday and eliminated.
If North Bend hadn’t managed to win one of its games, the Friday results wouldn’t have mattered because North Eugene held the tiebreaker.
But the Bulldogs came through after losing the opener 11-2, thanks to a fabulous outing by pitcher Jayden Frank, one big offensive inning and the winning walk.
“That was a great team win,” said Jake Simmons, one of the seven seniors honored between the two games. “Hopefully it puts us in playoff position.”
Simmons took the blame for North Bend losing the first game. He was on the mound when Ashland scored five runs with just one hit — a bunt single — in the top of the first inning, a deficit North Bend couldn’t overcome.
“That first inning, I couldn’t throw a strike to save my life,” he said.
Pitching in the steady rain that lasted virtually the entire first game, Simmons walked six batters and hit one. The only balls the Grizzlies put in play were a bunt single by Dane Reynolds and a sacrifice fly by Miles Ransweiler.
North Bend coach Brad Horning said the Bulldogs don’t often have pitching bullpen sessions in the rain, but he and Simmons also said they didn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“I’m not an excuse guy,” Simmons said. “I just wasn’t throwing strikes.”
Simmons was followed on the mound by Mane Freeman, who finally got the Bulldogs out of the first inning, and Lucas Moe, who took over after Ashland finally started to have success against Freeman, scoring its other six runs during a fourth inning that included consecutive singles by Nick Buccino, Rowan Amann and Nathan Carter — the only other hits of the game for Ashland.
By the end of the first game, the Grizzlies had managed their 11 runs despite their batters collecting just the four hits and striking out 17 times.
North Bend, though, managed just single runs in the fourth inning when Bridger Holmes beat out an infield single and scored on a single by Ian Spalding, and in the fifth, when Frank singled and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Holmes.
Ashland pitcher Eli Westrick pitched great, not struggling in the rain, and got help with nearly flawless fielding by his teammates.
Ashland jumped in front in the second game when Reynolds reached on an error, Buccino singled and both eventually came around.
That was all the Grizzlies could do against Frank until the seventh inning as he retired 16 of 17 batters in one stretch and Spalding threw out the one who had hit a single when he tried to steal second.
“Jayden pitched incredibly well,” Horning said.
The Bulldogs finally broke through in the third inning, a fabulous stretch of offense missing the rest of the day.
Freeman was hit by a pitch to start the inning and Spalding put down a sacrifice bunt and was safe on an error. Brylee Anderson then beat out a bunt single and Brendon Roberts was hit by a pitch, bringing in the first run. Frank hit a two-run single, Simmons and Moe followed with RBI singles and White hit a sacrifice fly.
It appeared North Bend was headed to a stress-free win with how much the Grizzlies were struggling against Frank.
“I feel like I threw really well for the first six innings,” he said. “I’m disappointed I let it up in the seventh.”
Frank said he was throwing his curveball for strikes and hitting his spots with his fastball. He overwhelmed the Grizzlies until the seventh.
Ashland was down to its final out after a nifty double play following an inning-opening walk. Holmes fielded a grounder by Amann at third, fired to Anderson at second and then Anderson got the ball to White at first to just beat Amann.
But Frank walked Nathan Carter and gave up singles to Rensweiler and Isaac Evans and a double to Cruz Dreiling. The tying run scored on an error on a ball hit to second.
Holmes came on to relieve Frank, who had thrown 113 pitches, 27 more than his longest previous outing, and got out of the inning on a grounder to second.
Then North Bend came up with its winning run.
Simmons walked and moved to second on a passed ball. The Grizzlies intentionally walked Moe and Holmes beat out a bunt single to load the bases. White then worked the count full, and when the final pitch was inside, North Bend was able to celebrate the win.
“It felt great to get that win,” Simmons said.
And it put the Bulldogs into playing the waiting game until Friday's results were finalized.
"Hopefully you're in a good spot," Horning said. "It's like we're waiting on the NCAA selection committee."
As it turned out, the Bulldogs wouldn't have been in the playoffs anyway, and North Eugene won't either, because North Salem won at Silverton on Friday to jump over the Bulldogs in the Class 5A power rankings (North Eugene was several spots below North Bend) and earn the one at-large spot available in Class 5A.