There were a lot of kabooms to kick off the Walla Walla Sweets’ 10th-anniversary season Tuesday at Borleske Stadium in West Coast League baseball action.
First, the Sweets went kaboom with a five-run eighth inning to break open a 3-2 game and propel the Sweets to an 8-2 victory over the defending WCL champion Corvallis Knights.
Then, there was the after-game aerial fireworks for the 10 years of fan support.
The start did not look promising for the Sweets.
Sweets starter, Whitman product Travis Craven, walked the bases loaded with one out in the top of the first inning.
Craven wiggled out of the jam by enticing a ground ball that the Sweets defense turned into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play, and the Knights came away empty.
“Travis made a great pitch and jammed the guy,” Sweets manager Frank Mutz said. “He (the Knights’ Stephen Lund) couldn’t handle the fastball in. That (double play) was a big break for us.”
Parker Price started a two-out Sweets rally in the home first, as he singled to left and got Brock Ephran, a Lewis and Clark State College product, to the plate.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hawaiian product blasted a shot to the base of the left-center wall, and Price scored.
It was 1-0 Sweets after one.
A Brandon Wagstaff single and Mason Kokodynski’s sacrifice fly ran it to 2-0 after two.
Andy Atwood’s triple and a Sweets errant throw on a pickoff got the Knights back within one at 2-1 in the third.
Ephan blasted his second double of the night, this one to the base of the right-center wall, to lead off the home fourth.
“He (Ephran) is something else,” Mutz said. “I couldn’t believe how big he is, but he is a gentle giant who can really swing it.”
A walk and a Ben Johnson base hit then loaded the bases with no outs.
Enter Colton Meyer from the Knights’ bullpen. Meyer got Wagstaff to lift a fly to left that Jake Holcroft got turned around on, but made the catch lying on his back. His relay back to the infield was relayed to second base and onto first base. The ruling on the field was that those Sweets baserunners did not tag after the catch, and the Knights completed the 7-6-4-3 triple play.
The Sweets tallied one run as Ephran tagged at third and scored before the third out, and Walla Walla led 3-1 after four.
“The guy made a great catch,” Mutz said. “But everyone tagged up. Both umpires were watching the play in the outfield and just missed it. It happens. If that inning continued, I think we put up a crooked number and the game changes.”
The Knights got closer, using a walk, a hit batsman, a sacrifice bunt, and a sac fly to score a sixth-inning run without a hit and narrow the gap to 3-2 after six.
The Sweets went to the eighth clinging to that 3-2 lead.
The first three Sweets — Patrick Caulfield, Cesar Lopez, and Price — all singled, with Price’s hit driving home Caulfield.
Ephan walked to load the bases.
Justin Folz took one for the team to force in Lopez, and it was 5-2 Sweets.
Johnson’s grounder got Price home.
Wagstaff singled in Ephran and a wild pitch got Folz home to culminate a four-hit, five-run Sweets eighth and produce the 8-2 win.
“It took us a little while to score,” Mutz said. “The guys are swinging the bat real well. We squared up a lot of balls, but hit some right at people. I’m hoping that this is a very offensive team this year.”
The Sweets, with Price, Ephan, Wagstaff, and Caulfield leading the way with two hits each, outhit the Knights, 11-3.
The Sweets pitchers — Craven, Brennan Patterson, Nick Irwin and Sebby Reid — combined to hold the Knights to only those three hits, although they walked eight and hit two batters.
“Our pitching staff was resilent,” Mutz summarized. “They didn’t give in. They got in a couple of tough situations, but pitched out of them.”
The Sweets and Knights square off in the second game of the three game, season-opening WCL series tonight at 6:35 at Borleske.
Sweets 8, Knights 2
Bales, Meyer (4), Van Lith (6), Knight (9) and Hodkinson; Craven, Patterson (3), Irwin (7), Reid (9) and Johnson.
HRs — none.
Hits — Cor: Atwood, Hodkinson, Lund; WW: Price 2, Ephan 2, Wagstaff 2, Johnson, Caulfield 2, Folz, Lopez.