By Jesse Geleynse
EVERETT — If the Everett AquaSox are going to bring the franchise’s third Northwest League championship back to Snohomish County, they’re going to have to do it on the road.
The Eugene Emeralds took advantage of their league-best pitching staff to hold Everett’s league-best offense to a single run on five hits as Eugene claimed Game 1 of the Northwest League Championship Series 3-1 before 875 fans Sunday at Everett Memorial Stadium.
If there is a silver lining it is that the AquaSox took four of five when they played at Eugene in August. That came after Eugene took four of five in Everett during July.
“Like the old cliche, you take it one game at a time,” Everett manager Rob Mummau said. “It’s a cliche for a reason, I guess.”
Eugene’s hard-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease, the Chicago Cubs’ fourth-ranked prospect, struck out six and allowed a pair of doubles in four innings. Cease’s fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and he complemented his velocity with a breaking ball that kept the Everett hitters honest.
“We don’t see it every day, of course,” Mummau said. “He’s got a wonderful arm. It’s just one of those guys that you have to be ready for the fastball, but he’s got a good curveball too. He kept us off-balance those four innings.”
The Emeralds (3-1 postseason) took advantage of three solo home runs to take a 3-0 lead into the bottom the eighth inning.
Donnie Walton led off with a single and Bryson Brigman followed with a double. Eric Filia walked and that was all for Eugene reliever Andin Diaz, who was yanked for Dakota Mekkes. Mekkes struck out Nick Zammarelli, and then induced what was initially called an inning-ending double play grounder from Kristian Brito.
But the umpires conferred and determined Eugene first baseman Chris Pieters had pulled his foot. That allowed Walton to score to make it 3-1, but Nick Thurman flew out to end the inning.
That was the only run for Everett (2-1 postseason).
“This team doesn’t give up,” Brigman said. “Every guy depends on each other. We all trust each other and that really goes a long way, especially in a place like pro baseball where you never know – some guys are playing for this, some guys are playing for that – this team is all playing to win and playing for each other and I think that’s going to carry us through.”
Yeiler Peguero’s one-out solo home run to right-center field gave the Emeralds a 1-0 lead.
DJ Wilson added a moon shot home run just inside right field foul pole leading off the top of the sixth to push Eugene’s lead to 2-0. One out later Pieters hit nearly an identical homer that went even longer into the right field picnic area. The first base umpire called it fair prompting Everett manager Rob Mummau to leave the dugout for a discussion.
The call stood and gave the Emeralds a 3-0 lead.
Everett starter Danny Garcia surrendered all three runs, but only four total hits in his six innings of work. He struck out seven.
Everett had an excellent chance to get to Cease in the fourth when Zammarelli worked a leadoff walk. He was forced out on Kristian Brito’s fielder’s choice, and Nick Thurman followed with a walk to put runners at first at second with one out. But Cease struck out Austin Grebeck swinging on a breaking ball and fanned Yojhan Quevedo looking with a high-90s fastball on the outside corner to end the threat.
The series continues tonight at 7 in Eugene. Ljay Newsome (6-3, 4.30 ERA regular season) will start for Everett against Eugene’s Tyson Miller (1-1, 3.97 regular season). Game 3 if necessary would be played Tuesday in Eugene.
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