EAST WENATCHEE — The Eastmont Wildcats could not have had a more inauspicious start to their Senior Night game against Ephrata Tuesday at Dan White Field.
The Tigers put up a three-spot in the first inning after catcher Brock Hussey cranked a two-out, three-run home run off Wildcats’ starter, Kade Kuske. Then in the home half, senior Hunter Ruhl was ejected after he struck out looking and muttered something on his walk back to the dugout.
But the Wildcats and Kuske — who retired the first two Ephrata batters before a lazy pop-fly dropped in behind short and preceded the home run — settled in after the first inning. The junior relinquished just one hit and fanned four Ephrata batters over the next two frames, finishing with five strikeouts overall.
Eastmont’s bats took a couple of innings to wake up but Kuske got the Wildcats started in the third with a single to right. That started a mini-rally as Austin Popoff, Cooper Richards and Dylan Esparza (who replaced Ruhl) recorded three straight hits. Popoff ripped a double that one-hopped the fence and plated Kuske. He was then driven in on a single from Richards, leveling the score at 3-3.
Senior Joe Murphy relieved Kuske in the fourth and got through the inning unscathed. The Wildcats then took the lead in the home half, using small-ball to their advantage as Murphy led off with a single. He advanced to second following a perfectly executed sac-bunt from Luke Gale and scored on a single from Dillon Klinkenberg. Kuske got on base and was driven in off a single from Popoff — who finished (3-for-5) with two RBI’s.
But the wheels came off for Eastmont in the fifth. Ephrata batted through the lineup and plated seven runs in the inning, doubling up the Wildcats to take a 10-5 lead. The Tigers padded their lead with six more runs in the sixth and seventh inning, highlighted by a two-run home run from Kyle Hendricks in the seventh that sailed over the left-center fence and landed on the hill behind the field. It was a no-doubter from the crack of the bat.
Eastmont mounted a comeback in the seventh, batting through the order and cutting into the Ephrata lead, but ultimately the Wildcats were unable to dig themselves out of an 11-run hole.
Richards finished with three hits and scored one run. Kuske and Esparza both finished (2-for-3) and Klinkenberg notched a pair of singles. The Wildcats employed a platoon of pitchers in relief of Murphy, who tossed one inning and left two men on in the fifth.
Ephrata’s Gavin Burns tossed 5.2 innings, struck out seven and earned the win.
The Wildcats will look to bounce back on Friday with a doubleheader at Moses Lake. First pitch is at 4 p.m.