The Riverhawks produced a memorable opening chapter in the return of Umpqua Community College baseball on Saturday.
From blue skies overhead to a big crowd to former UCC coach Dan Withers throwing out the first pitch to a come-from-behind win by Umpqua in the second game that completed a sweep of Olympic College — it was quite a happening at Bill Gray Stadium at Champion Car Wash Field.
Umpqua, returning to the diamond (with new turf) for the first time in 35 years, sent an audience estimated at around 1,500 home happy with 6-2 and 7-4 nonleague wins.
“It was fantastic,” UCC shortstop Michael Freund said of the atmosphere. “You could feel the buzz from the crowd, it kind of fed our players. We were really excited too, and it was a good time to be out there and play some baseball.”
Matthew Burley, a freshman right-hander from Spokane, Washington, took the ball for the Riverhawks in the opener, allowing just one hit and one earned run over six innings.
“I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Burley admitted. “Thirty-five years is a long time to wait. There’s a lot of history in this program and town and it was such an honor to be able to take the mound and represent this team and program.”
Umpqua head coach Jeremiah Robbins called it a day he won’t forget.
“Oh man, incredible,” he said. “Just to hear the crowd and to see how many people we had here, it was pretty special. There was a lot of anxiety and adrenaline running, but our kids were able to control their heartbeat and come out on the good side for two games.”
UCC Athletic Director Craig Jackson had many people to thank during the pre-game ceremony.
“I think everybody’s pretty excited,” Jackson said. “Great crowd, great day, great to start off the season with a win. It’s good for the community to see the level of baseball we play in the NWAC. The boys have been waiting to play for a long time.
“It was always rumored (baseball) was going to be (well-received), so it’s exciting to stand out in the field and look back and see 1,600 in the stands. It’s a pretty good feeling. We’re excited about how the field plays and looks, and it’s a great situation for us baseball-wise.”
One of the very proud ones was Withers, who guided the baseball program for 10 seasons from 1976-85 before it was cut. Around 15 to 20 of his former UCC players came from around the region to show their support.
“I’m excited as hell, to be quite honest,” Withers said. “Not only with what they’ve done with the facility, but the crowd they have here. Seeing some of the players I had a way back. Almost 45 years, some of them showed up from Grants Pass who played on my first team in the spring of 1976.
“I’m just tickled pink for them. It’s been a great day.”
And Withers got to show off his veteran right arm one more time with the pitch to the plate.
“You can’t warm that thing up any more, really,” he said with a smile. “I had a little surgery a few years back — I have to find some excuses where I didn’t throw my good stuff.
“I threw a changeup, and it was a little high according to some of the people here. But I ran into Pete Whisler and he said that was a strike in Klamath Falls. I agreed with him on that.”
Jeremiah Robbins said, “(Coach Withers) got it done. He was a little bit nervous too. I have a lot of respect for that guy, he’s had a huge impact on my life. He’s a legend.”
The Riverhawks used a four-run third inning to take the lead for good in the opener.
Charlie Updegrave stroked a two-run single, Owen Viano brought home a run with a triple and former Umpqua Valley Christian standout Jacob Luther executed a safety squeeze bunt to score the fourth run.
Luther delivered a two-run single in the fifth to make it 6-1. Updegrave and Joshua Robbins each went 2-for-4.
Burley was solid in his debut, not allowing a hit until two outs in the fourth inning when Drew Gallegos hit an RBI single. Burley, who works quickly on the bump, struck out four, walked two and hit one batter.
“I thought it was a great day,” Burley said. “There were some nerves early, but by the second or third inning I settled in and started doing my thing. A lot of fastball and changeup today. They weren’t hitting the fastball, so I just came out early and tried to cram it inside.”
Sutherlin graduate Payton Hope and Preston Johnson finished up on the hill for the Riverhawks.
In the nightcap, Umpqua rallied from a 4-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth, three in the seventh and one in the eighth.
Viano ripped a two-run double with two outs in the sixth to get the Riverhawks within 4-3.
“Viano with the big one, that kind of turned the tide for us,” Jeremiah Robbins said.
Dakota Bunn contributed an RBI single and Freund lined a run-scoring double to give UCC the lead for good at 5-4 in the seventh. Viano added an RBI single in the inning and Luther scored on a passed ball in the eighth to cap the scoring.
Mason Crowson got the decision in relief for the Riverhawks, shutting out the Rangers over the last four innings.
Freund had three hits in five at-bats, while Viano was 2-for-4.
“They competed,” Jeremiah Robbins said. “Matt Burley coming out and doing what he did, and then the offense behind him with some clutch hitting. We gave away a few at-bats, but they never strayed away from our focus. It’s the first time for most of these guys ever stepping on a college baseball field, and they stayed with it and I’m so proud of them.
“I loved that second game, being down 4-1 and then we come back and win in Riverhawk innings. Mason Crowson comes in and just competes his butt off on the mound. So just a lot of very competitive moments in a very tense atmosphere.”
“I was thrilled with how today went,” Burley said. “I thought the hitters did a great job of putting the ball in play. Our defense made routine plays and kept us in the game and the pitchers did a great job of throwing strikes and competing all the way around.”
The two clubs will play another doubleheader Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m.
Olympic 000 100 010 — 2 3 1
Umpqua 004 020 00x — 6 7 0
Gabriel, McLaughlin (6), Sasaki (8) and Manuel; Burley, Hope (7), Thomson (8) and Robbins. WP — Burley (1-0). LP — Gabriel. 2B — Robbins (UCC). 3B — Viano (UCC).
Olympic 000 040 000 — 4 3 0
Umpqua 001 002 31x — 7 10 3
Cowan, Fisher (6), Shimko (8) and Malagodi; Johnson, Crowson (6) and Kinman, Robbins (9). WP — Crowson (1-0). LP — Fisher. 2B — Gallegos (O), Angelico (O), Freund 2 (UCC), Viano (UCC). 3B — Gassman (UCC).