Coming off of a home opening 11-2 loss to the North Bend Bulldogs the Lions looked to rebound Monday in a doubleheader against the Elmira Falcons. Elmira (4-3, 0-1 Sky-Em) was trying to pick up their first road win of the season after a 5-1 loss against the undefeated Sisters Outlaws in their league opener three days prior. The doubleheader was the beginning of a five game week for the Lions (5-2, 1-0).
Cottage Grove has relied on consistent pitching early on this season, allowing four runs or less in all five of their victories. As a team the Lions pitching staff toted a 1.79 earned run average (E.R.A.) headed into the opening game against the Falcons. Monday was much of the same from the Lions staff as they would hold Elmira to only two runs in both games, picking up a 9-2 and 6-2 victory.
Cottage Grove sent senior ace Brett Ollivant to the mound in game one. Ollivant has been dominant in his four starts this season, going 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA. Elmira got to Ollivant early, striking for two runs (one earned) in the first two innings. That was all the Falcons would get. Ollivant would settle in and retire 12 of the last 15 batters he faced, only giving up two hits in the final four innings he pitched as Cottage Grove would cruise to the 9-2 victory. Mason Cox came in to pitch the seventh inning, retiring the side on only 11 pitches.
The Lions struck for a single run in each of the first four innings against Elmiras’ Kellen Smith before breaking things open in the fifth. Elmira sent Kobe Bechtel to the mound in relief and the Lions lineup erupted for five runs on six hits. In total Cottage Grove sent nine men to the plate in the inning. Payton Frieze led the way for the Lions going 3-4 with an RBI in game one.
Elmira saved their ace Richard Estrella for game two of the doubleheader. Estrella had a phenomenal freshman season in 2016 going 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA. However, he would have to deal with the memories of a Payton Presley walk-off homerun at Kelly field just a season ago. The Lions sent sophomore Wyatt Sayles (1-1, 2.15 ERA) to the mound for his third start of the season. Both pitchers would struggle early, as it took Estrella 31 pitches just to finish the first inning. Sayles had to throw 23 of his own, but both escaped the first allowing a single run.
Runs were hard to come by after the first inning as Estrella and Sayles took control, but for the second time Monday afternoon the fifth inning was the turning point. Elmira took a 2-1 lead after Tyler Nickell led off the fifth with a double and came around to score two batters later. The Lions would rally in the bottom of the inning as T.J. Bellamy started things off with a one out single before Estrella began to lose his control. He walked the next two batters to load the bases for Sayles. The sophomore lined a single into left center to bring home two runs for Cottage Grove, giving them a 3-2 lead on their way to the 6-2 victory.