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Friday night lights a hit at UP, as Pilots prevail 10-7


COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Freshman Cody Hawken (right) is greeted at home plate after one of his two home runs Friday night under the lights and in the rain at Joe Etzel Field.As a child, Cody Hawken imagined someday playing baseball under bright lights and hitting a home run.

That vision became a reality Friday, twice over.

The University of Portland freshman left fielder hit two-run homers in his first two home at-bats to highlight the Pilots’ 10-7 rain-drenched win over the Oakland (Mich.) Golden Grizzlies.

This game had far more significance than a typical first home appearance of the season. Friday marked the first time the Pilots (4-1) have played a baseball game at night after the recent installation of lights at the all-turf Joe Etzel Field.

“It’s a big-time feeling playing under lights,” said Hawken, a 2015 graduate of Union High in Vancouver, Wash. “It really is something we all dream about as kids.”

Hawken’s first blast, to right-center field, gave Portland a 3-1 lead in the second inning. He added a lofted shot to left that put the Pilots ahead 5-2 in the third.

But as he stood on the field after the game — in no hurry to leave despite the heavy rain — Hawken was more excited to talk about a play he made on defense in the top of the ninth.

Oakland’s Ian Yetsko led off with a booming line drive that appeared to be a double. But Hawken fielded it off the wall with his throwing hand and deftly threw a one-hop dart to second baseman Kevin Farley, who tagged out Yetsko.

“Probably the best throw of my life,” said Hawken, who emphatically pumped his fist after the umpire signaled out. “That throw was the cherry on top. I just got a good hop and let it rip and sure enough it landed where it needed to land and got there in time. You can hit a ball every day, but you don’t get many chances to make an assist like that.

“And to do that in the first-ever lights game is just so great.”

First-year UP coach Geoff Loomis, a former Pilots baseball standout, said Hawken’s throw was equally as important to the victory as his two home runs.

“That first home run to right-center was absolutely pounded, but that throw at the end was, like, ‘Wow,’” Loomis said. “Who knows how that inning turns out without that?”

Oakland, which out-hit Portland 10-8, failed to score in the ninth. The Golden Grizzlies had scored in six of the first seven innings before being shut out in the final two.

After trailing 5-2 through three innings, Oakland chipped away with one run each in the fourth, fifth and sixth. The Golden Grizzlies, who won’t play a home game until April, then took a 7-6 lead with two runs in the seventh.

Similar to what he did last week at UC Davis, Loomis then looked around at his team and was encouraged by how his Pilots responded to having their lead vanish. Portland, which overcame two deficits in victories at UC Davis last weekend, did the same Friday, when it scored twice in the seventh to take an 8-7 lead and twice more in the eighth for valuable insurance runs.

“We had a lead, we gave it away, and then we battled back again,” Loomis said. “The important part of it all was how resilient we were tonight. We were pretty resilient those last three innings.

“And putting those last two runs up in the bottom of the eighth was really important because of the way the conditions were tonight. No lead was safe.”

Ah, yes, the conditions. The pregame weather forecast of “100 percent chance of rain” proved accurate Friday, but Mother Nature couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the first night game in Pilots history.

“I was hoping the rain wouldn’t take away from the fan experience, because it was a pretty special night,” Loomis said. “I looked up in the crowd in the middle of innings and thought the fans might start clearing out, but they supported us the whole way tonight. Pretty amazing.”

The constant rain — which was mostly absorbed into the all-turf field to keep the game playable — did affect the crispness of play. The teams combined for 10 errors, with Oakland (1-4) committing six. A couple of bats went flying down the third-base line after slipping out of hands on swings, and one Golden Grizzlies base runner stole second but was tagged out after sliding past the bag on the slick turf.

“Homefield advantage,” said a smiling Pilots catcher Cooper Hummel. “I love the turf. It holds up pretty well in the rain.”

Hummel went 2 for 5 with two runs scored, Hawken was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and four RBIs, and Ryan Barr went 2 for 3 with two runs scored.

Portland used five pitchers, with Cole Doherty earning the victory in relief.

The four-game series with Oakland continues with a game at 1 p.m. Saturday and concludes with a doubleheader on Sunday that starts at 11 a.m.

The next night home game is March 4, when the Pilots play host to UC Riverside in a 6 p.m. game at Joe Etzel Field.

Former UP athletic direcror Joe Etzel, who coached and played baseball for the Pilots, threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches Friday.COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Portland Pilots (from left) Cody Hawken, Caleb Whalen, Michael Forgione and Ryan Barr confer before the start of the first night game at Joe Etzel Field. UP won 10-7 in the series opener against Oakland.