Emeralds win closer than it should have been

Eugene OR – Through a quarter of the season, it appears the Eugene Emeralds have found a dominant pitching ace in Jeremy Hefner. Hefner led the way for the Emeralds, throwing five shutout innings while giving up just two hits as the Ems closed out a three game series against the Everett Aquasox with a 4-1 victory.

Jeremy Hefner's five scoreless innings against the Sox brought his streak to 12.1 innings, a stretch that covers three games through July. In 17.1 innings this season, Hefner has given up just one run and nine hits. During that time, Hefner has compiled a 0.52 ERA and leads the Emeralds with 27 strikeouts, including six in Thursday night's effort against the Aquasox.

"I had everything working tonight. I just made some good pitches," Hefner said. "I've been working on my changeup a lot and it's starting to come around."

After giving up a single to Ogui Diaz to start the game, Hefner retired 13 straight batters until surrendering his only other hit of the night in the fifth, a groundball single to center field hit by Joseph Dunigan.

Although Hefner was having his way with Everett batters, he had help from his defense. Catcher Mitch Canham threw out both Diaz and Dunigan attempting to steal second, allowing Hefner to face the minimum number of batters through five innings.

"A pitcher's nothing without his defense, especially his catcher," Hefner said.

Meanwhile, Eugene was having some offensive woes of their own. After tagging Doug Salinas for three runs in the first inning, the Emeralds allowed several more scoring chances to slip away. Eugene loaded the bases in the third with no outs and in the fifth with one out, but failed to punch home any runs. For the game, the Emeralds picked up only four runs off of 12 hits and four walks, leaving 11 runners on base.

Despite their struggle at the plate when it mattered, the Emeralds were glad to close out the series against Everett on a positive note. The victory was welcome after a disappointing loss the previous night against the Aquasox, who scored two runs in the ninth to snatch a 5-4 victory from the Ems.

"We've been battling with them the past three games and I'm glad we played well as a team tonight," said outfielder Kellen Kulbacki. "We had great pitching and great team defense as well."

Kulbacki carried the offensive load for the Emeralds, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs.

"I felt relaxed out there today," Kulbacki said. "I felt like I was seeing pitches well, better than I've been seeing the last couple games."

Kulbacki provided all the offense the Ems would need in the first inning, doubling home Eric Sogard and Luis Martinez to score the Ems first two runs. Justin Baum followed him with a double of his own, a grounder to left field that brought Kulbacki in to make the game 3-0.

The game then fell into a pitching duel of sorts, with Hefner cutting down batters and Aquasox pitchers Salinas and Will Brown getting out of several tight jams.

The Sox were finally able to avoid the shutout in the sixth once Hefner left the game. John Hussey relieved and ran into some trouble as he started the inning by hitting Dunbar in the shoulder. After getting Kris Sanchez to pop out, Hussey walked Welington Dotel and Diaz to load the bases. Edilio Colina brought in Dunbar with a sacrifice fly to left field and Greg Halman flied out to center to end the inning.

The Ems got their run back in the eighth when Canham singled in Danny Payne with a line drive center field. Rob Woodard closed out the game by throwing a perfect ninth to earn his first save of the season. Working as a reliever, Woodard has yet to give up a run in five appearances this year, totaling six innings.

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