Walla Walla Sweets manager Frank Mutz called on five different pitchers Wednesday night at Borleske Stadium.
But it was reliever Brayde Hirai’s early exploits that helped curb Bellingham’s hitting onslaught, as the homestanding Sweets took a 5-4 West Coast League baseball victory.
A total of four innings of work by Hirai, a southpaw entering his second season at Walla Walla Community College, were key to a Sweets victory in the opener of six straight home games.
Walla Walla moved to 4-3 in the second-half WCL South Division standings.
Bellingham, winner of the North Division in the first half, slipped to 5-5 in the second half.
The two teams meet again at 6:35 tonight at Borleske. The series concludes with a 7:05 p.m. game followed by fireworks on Friday.
Jordan Hovey’s leadoff home run in the bottom of Wednesday’s second stanza staked the Sweets to an early lead, but the Bells rang out six of their nine game-total hits in the first three innings and took a 2-1 edge with two down in the third inning.
Hirai, a graduate of Chiawana High School in Pasco, stepped in for Walla Walla starter Sean Sullivan and fanned Landen Kimbro for the third out.
Then, Hirai was center stage in a frame full of fielding gems in the fourth after the Sweets tied the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the third inning.
Walla Walla third baseman Nick Nyquist charged a bunt and threw out Jordan Stoner to open the fourth.
Then Hirai somehow snagged a wicked grounder off the bat of Bellingham’s Michael Petrie, gathered his composure and threw to first baseman Robby Teel for the second out.
“That one was just lucky. The ball came into my glove pretty much,” Hirai said. “I thought it was going to nail me. That thing was rocketed, too.”
If the ball somewhat fortuitously found Hirai’s mitt for the inning’s second out, it took something more for the inning ender. Bellingham leadoff hitter Guthrie Morrison skied a high-hop grounder off the infield grass and Hirai sprang toward third, fielded the ball and fired to Teel at first for the third out.
“I just ran and grabbed it,” Hirai said. “I knew Nick (third baseman Nyquist) was playing back.”
“He’s very athletic, and he just bounced off the mound,” Mutz said of Hirai. “To have Brayde come in and pitch the way he did was unbelievable.”
Sweets 5, Bells 4
Moore, Weiermiller (5), Kay (7), Marsh (8) and Petrie; Sullivan, Hirai (3), Collins (7), Reed (8), Farris (9) and Prizina.
HRs — Bell: Needham; WW: Hovey.
Hits — Bell: Morrison, Needham 2, James 3, Stroup, McLain 2; WW: Johnston, Sinatro, Lopez, Hovey 2, Fariss, Prizina, Filby.