POCATELLO – When the Gate City Grays were tied 4-4 in the sixth inning of their playoff opener, a long line of veterans could have stepped up and secured a win.
Instead, it was first-year Gray Chase Barrera, who hit a ball to the center-field wall for a two-RBI double, which was just enough in a 6-5 win Wednesday at Halliwell Park in the first of a best-of-three-game series against the Smithfield Blue Sox. Barrera finished with three hits and three RBIs in four at-bats.
“Hitting the ball. Feeling the ball well,” Barrera said. “First playoff game, you got to answer back with a win.”
Barrera has never attended a Gate City game as a spectator, nor does the Caldwell native have any connection to southeast Idaho. But the third baseman is glad he roomed with Treasure Valley Community College and Grays teammate Braden Palmer to spend a summer with the Grays. He said he has never played in front of as many people as he does for the Grays.
“He’s been grinding, grinding, grinding all summer long,” Grays manager Trent Seamons said. “We’ve definitely seen good improvement recently and tonight, everything finally came together for him.”
After giving his team a 6-4 lead, the Grays (18-10-1) had to hold onto it, which they did — just barely. After Smithfield's No. 9 batter struck out to start the final frame, the next three batters reached base, including Zach Hansen, who drove in Scott Madsen to make the score 6-5.
After the Blue Sox (19-11-1) erased a 4-1 deficit, they were halfway toward erasing a two-run margin with one out and a base runner on third in the seventh. The second out came on a popup. Then, Grays second baseman Ethan Hunt caught an infield hit off the bounce and flipped the ball underhand to Palmer, who received it at second base for the final out.
It ended yet another tense matchup between the Northern Utah League foes this season. The Grays had a 4-1-1 record against the Blue Sox entering the playoffs, but Gate City only held a seven-run edge over six games.
But yet again the Grays got the victory, and are one win away from the championship round after falling in the semifinals last season against Logan.
Gate City’s playoff victory could have been captured with more ease, if it had capitalized in the third and fourth innings that resulted in four runs, but featured six runners stranded on base.
“We were really in control of the game early,” Seamons said. “That’s baseball.”
Gate City can finish out the series Thursday at Smithfield. The series returns to Halliwell Park on Friday with a Grays loss.