Ismael Munguia (38) points towards the dugout after hitting a single early in the game. The Eugene Emeralds suffered a major 10-2 defeat at the hands of the Everett AquaSox on Wednesday, July 7 at PK Park in Eugene, Oregon. (Will Geschke/Emerald)

The Eugene Emeralds really needed this.

After a shaky and frustrating road trip, they returned to PK Park for the last time with authority. They took the first four games against the Everett AquaSox, only falling in the nightcap of Friday’s doubleheader, which ended their six-game winning streak.

The strong performance was particularly important in the standings; they remained a half game ahead of the Spokane Indians and pulled to 3.5 games ahead of the AquaSox. Just one week of baseball remains as the Emeralds look to win the High-A West.

Offense overcame shaky pitching

The Emeralds offense, which went through a beyond brutal stretch on the road the previous two weeks, showed up last week. They posted a .284/.362/.529 line as a team, hitting nine homers and scoring 28 runs in five games. Twenty of those runs came in the first two games.

Ismael Munguia was the offensive star, going a blistering 10-for-18 with just one strikeout. He single-handedly won the first game of Friday’s doubleheader for Eugene, tying the game with a home run and later hitting a walk-off single in the 2-1 victory.

Armani Smith, Sean Roby, Franklin Labour and Jairo Pomares also had super strong weeks in their own right.

The Emeralds’ pitching, while not terrible, wasn’t as dominant. They gave up 22 runs, posting a 4.61 team ERA. They struck out 60 batters while limiting Everett to 13 walks — a super solid 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The standout pitching performance came from Conner Nurse. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, striking out a career-high 10. Over his last five starts, he owns a 1.84 ERA with 34 strikeouts compared to 11 walks in 29 1/3 innings. It’s been a tough year for Nurse at times, but he’s finishing the season remarkably strong.

Seth Corry has looked a lot better since returning from an extended developmental assignment, although the Emeralds have been limiting his innings. He pitched three innings in one game this series, surrendering just one hit and, most importantly, no walks. Prior to his developmental assignment, he was issuing walks at a historically abysmal rate.

In the short time that he’s been back, he seems to be locating his curveball much better, which is key for him since that’s his main out pitch.

Another bright spot for the Emeralds on the pitching side has been the bullpen duo Austin Reich and Chris Wright. They’ve been lights out nearly every time, with Reich usually handling the seventh and/or eighth inning and Wright shutting the door in the ninth.

Reich has a 1.64 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings (14.42 K/9), while Wright has a 1.03 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 35 innings (14.4 K/9).

It’s now or never heading into the last week of the season

This season has been a grind — in fact, it’s been by far the longest season in Emeralds history, considering it’s their first year as a full-season team.

But it’s all finally going to come to an end this week on the road. The Emeralds will technically be the home team, even though they’ll be playing in Pasco, Washington. They’re scheduled to play six games against the Tri-City Dust Devils, who haven’t actually played a game since Sept. 3 due to COVID-19 contact tracing within their team.

As of now, the upcoming series is expected to be played as scheduled.

The top two teams in the High-A West will compete in a best-of-five series after the regular season is complete. Due to PK Park not meeting full-season minor league baseball standards, the Emeralds will not be able to host any games should they make the playoffs.

With Eugene back in first place, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that they’ll at least be in it. The question is if they’ll win the league or not. They’re just a half game ahead of Spokane, but 3.5 games ahead of third place Everett.

The AquaSox led the High-A West — even by a comfortable margin at times — for the majority of the season, yet they likely won’t even make the two team playoffs.

Barring any COVID-19 related cancellations, the Emeralds are set to kick off their series against Tri-City on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.

Sports Reporter

Joseph “Mojo” Hill is a sports writer and associate editor from Los Angeles. He enjoys watching and covering baseball. Outside of writing, he enjoys watching movies, playing tennis and playing clarinet.