On a night when his father Jeff — a former Major League infielder — threw out the ceremonial first onion, Walla Walla Sweets second baseman Connor Cirillo accepted the toss, took a bite out of the onion, then took a bite out of the visiting Portland Pickles a short time later.
Cirillo had two hits — including a game-tying, three-run home run that keyed a five-run, second-inning rally — that helped the West Coast League’s South Division leaders to a series-clinching 9-6 victory on Thursday night at Borleske Stadium.
Walla Walla improved to 10-2 on the season, while Portland fell to 5-10.
After the Pickles scored twice in the first inning and took a 3-0 in the second, the Sweets answered.
With two out and one on in the Walla Walla second, Caden Cortese drew a walk on four pitches and set the stage for Cirillo. He smacked the first pitch he eyed from Portland starting pitcher Jonathan Kelly and dropped it over the left-field wall to tie the game at 3-3.
Patrick Caulfield followed with a double and scored on a bad-hop hit to right off the bat of Cesar Lopez.
Ben Fariss sent Lopez to third with a single prior to the execution of a double steal by the duo that produced the final run of the inning, and Walla Walla led 5-3.
“A fastball down the middle was all I was looking for,” Cirillo said. “Coach told me to look for something I could kill and I did. I knew it was gone.”
Reliever Ben Johnson retired the Pickles 1-2-3 in the top of the third inning, and the Sweets tallied twice in the home half. Jordan Stubbings led off with a single and scored on a double to right by Caleb Farmer. With two out, Cirillo brought in Farmer with a single to give the Sweets a 7-3 lead.
Alex Shanks belted a solo home run to left in the fourth inning for Portland.
The Pickles drew two runs closer in the fifth on a wild pitch and a Darius Perry grounder.
Brock Ephan, pinch-hitting in the bottom of the fifth inning, worked the count to 2-0 against Portland reliever Nicolas Lopez before unloading a 421-foot home run to left that re-established a multiple-run edge for the home team.
“It felt awesome,” Ephan said. “He fell behind 2-0 and I had a feeling he was coming back with a fastball. It felt good to get back in the hit column.”
Caulfield led off the Walla Walla sixth with the second of three hits he had on the night.
He advanced to second on a Lopez grounder to the right side, ran to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Fariss single.
Walla Walla relievers Chazz Martinez, Dimick Wood, and Ben Fariss did not allow a run in their five total innings of mound work.
“I like the way they continue to battle every inning,” Walla Walla manager Frank Mutz said. “They keep coming back. That’s the personality. They want to win. They keep grinding at it.”
The Sweets open a three-game series with Port Angeles tonight at 7:05.
Sweets 9, Pickles 6
Kelly, Noble (3), Naughton (4), Lopez (5) and Perry. Hirai, Johnson (3), Spagnuolo (5), Martinez (5), Wood (6), Fariss (9) and Cortese.
HRs — Port: Shanks. WW: Ephan, Cirillo.
Hits — Manzardo, Jensen, Wojahn, Shanks, Power 2. WW: Caulfield 3, Lopez, Fariss 2, Stubbings, Farmer, Ephan, Cirillo 2.