The Walla Walla Bruins’ state Legion run ends with a 5-2 loss to the Pepper in Yakima on Tuesday.
YAKIMA — The final four teams in the Washington American Legion Class AA state baseball tournament are all from the east side of the state and represent Area 4.
Unfortunately, the Walla Walla Bruins are not one of them.
The Bruins, who finished second in Area 4’s Southern Division standings during the regular season, saw their season come to an end here Tuesday at the hands of the Yakima Peppers, seeded second at state out of the Northern Division.
The Peppers’ 5-2 victory here Tuesday at Davis High School matches them up with the Area 4 South Division champion Kennewick Phantoms today at 4 p.m.
The Phantoms, who edged Mount Vernon 6-5 Tuesday, are still undefeated at state, which means the Peppers will need to defeat the Kennewick team twice today to advance to Thursday’s state championship game.
On the other side of the bracket at Yakima Valley Community College, Area 4 North champion West Valley takes on the Hanford Flames, third seeded out of the South Division, also at 4 p.m.
West Valley beat up on Mount Spokane 9-1 Tuesday to remain unbeaten in the tournament and Hanford throttled the Yakima Beetles 11-2 in a loser-out game.
The Flames also face the challenge of defeating West Valley twice today in order to reach Thursday’s finale.
“It’s pretty cool,” Walla Walla coach Jason Parsons said of the all-Eastern Washington final four at state. “We always know going in that our area, north and south, is going to be tough competition.
“It’s just the way it has always been. Baseball tradition is rich on this side of the state.”
The Bruins have been a big part of that winning tradition over the past decade, but they were unable to add to their postseason resume this year.
The Peppers, who had defeated the Bruins three times earlier in the season, scored once in the second inning, twice in the third and then tacked on two crucial insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning.
Walla Walla, meanwhile, was held scoreless until the seventh when the Bruins scored twice in their final at-bats of the season.
Anthony Parish doubled off the fence in left field to begin the rally. Justin McKenzie followed with an RBI single, moved up a base on a fielder’s choice and scored on Ethan Zehner’s single up the middle.
Walla Walla had a couple of other scoring opportunities but couldn’t convert.
“We had runners on base but Yakima played clean, solid defense,” Parsons said. “They rolled double plays on us in the fourth and sixth innings.”
Walla Walla outhit Yakima 7-5 in the game. But Peppers pitcher Wyatt Berriman, who finished with seven strikeouts and two walks, was able to pitch around the trouble.
“Hat’s off to him,” Parsons said of Berriman. “He kept us off balance. He had so much command with his off-speed pitches that it made life difficult.”
The Peppers scored the game’s first run on a fielder’s choice. Berriman drove home two runs with a single in the third inning, and Conner Dailey doubled home a pair in the seventh.
“That kind of broke our back,” Parsons said of Yakima’s two-run seventh inning.
“But our kids have shown so much growth over the course of the summer,” the coach added. “It has been a real pleasure coaching these kids.”
Parsons said he expects “about 50 percent” of this year’s roster to return next season and he is hopeful that “about 50 percent” will move up the ladder and play for the Walla Walla Bears.
“I’m not quite sure of the numbers,” he said. “But looking ahead we have some pretty good area baseball players with a bright future ahead of them.”
Peppers 5, Bruins 2
Berriman and Pettyjohn; Polley, Holtzinger (3) and Parish.
Hits: Yakima: Fortier, Ergeson, Berriman, Dailey 2; Zehner 2, Swanson, Kopf, Parish, McKenzie 2.