Spokane plays its best when the odds are longest.
The Indians kept their pursuit of a High-A West title alive for another day, jumping on Eugene early to support starting pitcher Mitch Kilkenny in a 6-1 victory in Game 3 of the league’s championship series at Avista Stadium on Thursday night.
The teams return to the same field on Thursday for Game 4 at 6:30 p.m.
The Indians were 14 1/2 games removed from postseason contention in the league standings before storming back to earn a playoff nod. By contrast, a 2-0 deficit in the series was substantial but hardly insurmountable.
“We had a little talk before BP (batting practice) about just playing loose and not trying to do too much during the game,” said Grant Lavigne, who produced a team-high three hits for Spokane. “I think we did a good job playing relaxed.”
Eugene turned to one of the best pitchers in the league this season, Kai-Wei Teng, in a bid to clinch the series. The Indians performed well offensively in three meetings against Teng this year, though, and they entered the game confident at the plate.
Spokane, which batted in the top half of each inning as the visiting team despite hosting the entire series, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Ezequiel Tovar scored on a fielder’s choice. That marked the Indians’ first lead in the series.
Jack Blomgren slapped an RBI single into center field to drive in Daniel Montano for a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Teng held opposing batters to a league-low .218 batting average during the regular season, and his 142 strikeouts were the most among High-A West pitchers by a wide margin. Teng’s 4.33 ERA was second in the league behind Spokane’s Chris McMahon.
He found success against the Indians much more elusive, however, with an 0-1 record, 7.59 ERA and just 10 2/3 innings pitched over three starts.
Blomgren added another run with Tovar’s two-out single in the seventh. Brenton Doyle’s solo blast to left sparked a three-run outburst in the eighth that provided the final score.
Kilkenny didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth but ran into trouble in the fifth. The Emeralds’ Jairo Pomares jolted a solo home run to right to trim his team’s deficit to 2-1. The Emeralds missed an opportunity to tie the game moments later when Brandon Martorano got hung up between third and home after a Tyler Fitzgerald single and was tagged out by Spokane catcher Daniel Cope. Kilkenny then induced an inning-ending flyout from Ismael Munguia, who entered the contest batting .477 over his past 25 games, to preserve the one-run advantage.
Kilkenny capped his evening with an inning-ending double play in the seventh, his final inning. He allowed seven hits, six strikeouts and no walks.
“My approach was to treat it like any other game,” Kilkenny said. “Daniel Cope was behind the plate calling all the right pitches, and today was a good day for execution. I think it showed. I had all five pitches working, and we were able to keep them off balance. They’re a really good hitting team.”
“He locates his fastball and the same with his slider, and he mixes them up, too,” added Spokane manager Scott Little.
Tovar added two of Spokane’s nine hits.
“It is a little spark,” Little said. “The kids never gave up, and we’ve won three games in a row numerous times over the season.”
Teng allowed two earned runs and five hits in six-plus innings, and he struck out seven and walked two.
“Tonight was the first time I’ve faced him,” Lavigne said, “but I know … everyone already was a little bit confident going into their at-bats.”
Catcher Ricardo Genoves was called up to Triple-A’s Sacramento River Cats following the Emeralds’ 3-0 win in Game 2. He was replaced on the roster by Martorano, who was 2 for 3 batting eighth.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday, 6:30 p.m., at Avista Stadium.
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