gabe matthews

EUGENE — It’s been another year of setting the gold standard of baseball for the Eugene Emeralds.

Manager Carlos Valderrama has picked up where Dennis Pelfrey left off. In the Emeralds’ second year as a San Francisco Giants affiliate, they defended their league championship with a first-half title. They won a series over the Tri-City Dust Devils last week, taking five out of seven at PK Park.

The teams played seven tight and competitive games, with comebacks and collapses on both sides. The Emeralds proved victorious with speed, grit and contributions up and down the lineup. They also received strong starting pitching throughout the week, with their only two losses coming at the hands of late bullpen meltdowns.

Three former Ducks on the Dust Devils made their last trip to PK Park of the season. Kenyon Yovan and Kyle Kasser found themselves back in Eugene for the second straight year, while this time around they were joined by Gabe Matthews, who spent most of last season in Low-A.

Matthews was the hot hand, batting cleanup in all seven games and even getting engaged on Friday. The first baseman, who owns the most at-bats in PK Park history, reminded fans just how good he was for Oregon. He had a patient, calm approach all week, rarely taking a poor at-bat. He homered on Tuesday and Thursday and drew eight walks, posting a .483 OBP in the series.

Kasser went 4-for-12 at the dish, while Yovan didn’t play due to being on the development list. He still traveled with the team, being the first one out of the dugout to greet Matthews with a cowboy hat after he homered.

The Emeralds’ starting pitching was remarkably strong all week. Wil Jensen, an under-the-radar right-hander, pitched the first and last game of the series and didn’t give up an earned run in either outing. Giants No. 11 prospect Ryan Murphy was his typical self on Wednesday, throwing six scoreless innings. At one point, he struck out three consecutive batters with a runner on third and nobody out to hold a 1-0 lead.

Mason Black also gave a good performance, allowing one run in six innings in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. His fastball topped out at 97 mph.

Jake Wong was solid on Thursday, throwing 95 mph and striking out seven in five innings of two-run ball. The Emeralds’ offense was quiet all night, but RBI singles from Luis Toribio and Najee Gaskins helped tie the game with a three-run ninth inning. Errors, combined with the runner-on-second-in-extras rule, gave the Dust Devils three unearned runs in the 10th inning, and Eugene couldn’t quite complete the comeback with a 6-5 loss.

Giants No. 17 prospect Nick Swiney gave perhaps the best start for an Emeralds pitcher on Friday. The lefty gave up one unearned run in six innings while striking out 12 with heavy offspeed and breaking stuff.

The Emeralds only got two innings from Giants No. 12 prospect Randy Rodriguez on Saturday, but Ty Weber gave them four dominant innings out of the bullpen. They were on their way to another victory before Mat Olsen gave up five runs in the seventh inning, and Eugene lost 8-6. Matthews provided a big blow, tying the game with a two-run double.

They closed things out with a 9-4 win Sunday. It was the best offensive day for a group of hitters that was streaky throughout the series. They opened the week with five consecutive hits as they took a quick 5-0 lead. They didn’t score for the rest of the game, only putting up two runs in the next 17 innings.

Giants No. 8 prospect Hunter Bishop has had an underwhelming season after missing most of last year due to injury, but he was the Emeralds’ best offensive contributor this week. He went 8-for-21 with two homers and 10 RBIs. One of those homers was a grand slam off a lefty. In the field, he made some nice catches in right while also filling in at center.

Casey Schmitt, the Giants’ No. 13 prospect, has been the Emeralds’ best hitter this year. He has a large frame and is just a strong, pure hitter. He filled in at shortstop occasionally with No. 1 prospect Marco Luciano sitting out, and he made some surprisingly athletic plays despite his size. He didn’t have his best offensive series, but he still hit an RBI double and a two-run homer on Saturday.

Giants No. 6 prospect Patrick Bailey returned from a minor injury on Friday and hit a homer. Like Bishop, he’s yet to really thrive at the plate this year. He’s been back and forth between Low-A and High-A and hasn’t quite mastered High-A pitching.

Outfielder Gaskins had a solid series, going 6-for-19. Fellow outfielder Vaun Brown was also promoted Friday and went 3-for-7 with a pair of walks in his first two High-A games.

Despite some inconsistent offense, the Emeralds still played hard enough to win and showed off their tremendous depth of talent. Eugene is one of the most talent-rich teams in all of Minor League Baseball. They recorded two walk-off wins, bringing their total to a whopping seven on the season.

While things are looking up for the Emeralds, it’s possibly the end of an era for Matthews and his fellow former Ducks. With Matthews knocking on the door of a promotion to Double-A, he likely won’t be back next year.

Yovan and Kasser could potentially be Dust Devils next season, but there’s no guarantee. Neither has fully adjusted to High-A pitching, so it’s hard to predict exactly where they’ll be. In any case, they’ve made their marks in Eugene, and they got a chance to visit their old stomping grounds over the last couple seasons.

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.