The Walla Walla Sweets battled both Mother Nature and the Corvallis Knights Wednesday night in West Coast League baseball action.
The Sweets withstood two hours of rain and lightning delays, bounced back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, and maintained their focus to pull out a 6-3 win over the Knights in a game that took, with the delays, five hours to complete.
“The interesting thing is that we let them (the Sweets) have fun,” Sweets manager Frank Mutz said of managing the delays. “We let them go to the clubhouse and not think about it too much. (Thus) time went by quickly for them. That was kind of the way to do it, but they are self motivated and I didn’t have to say anything. They really wanted this one.”
The Knights got it started, as Corvallis put together a four-hit first inning and scored on a Jake Holcraft RBI single. (The Knights had a total of three hits in Tuesday’s 8-2 Walla Walla win).
It could have been worse, but Trace Tammaro smashed a line drive back at Sweets pitcher Brayde Hirai and Hirai, in self defense, stabbed the liner and turned it into a double play. The Knights only got one run on four hits and led 1-0 after one inning.
The Sweets had lots of action on the basepaths over the first three innings, but two Knight double plays helped kill rallies and keep the Sweets scoreless through three.
Trailing 1-0 in the home fourth, Justin Folz legged out an infield hit off Brodie Vassalakis, the Knights’ starting pitcher. Vassalakis’ throw was errant, and Folz wound up at second with one out.
Folz then stole third — one of four stolen bases the Sweets would swipe on the night.
Brandon Wagstaff got Folz home with the tying run with a sac fly to right.
The first lightning in the area caused the first 30-minute delay at the completion of the fourth with the game knotted 1-1.
An Andy Atwood triple and a Kai Murphy sac fly highlighted the return to action and produced a 2-1 Knights lead with the Sweets coming to bat in the home fifth.
Patrick Caulfied ripped a one-out single, and Cesar Lopez followed with a shot into triples alley in right-center to chase Caulfield home.
Parker Price’s grounder got Lopez home and the Sweets took their first lead of the game at 3-2 after five.
Landon Boeneke, on in relief of Hirai, worked a four-pitch sixth and the Sweets came to bat in the home sixth with that 3-2 lead.
Wagstaff then stole the show for the Sweets. After being hit by a pitch, Wagstaff stole second, went to third on Carson Green’s flyout, and scored on a wild pitch.
Then, with two outs in the sixth, the lightning sent the teams to the clubhouse with a 4-2 lead for what turned into a 90-minute delay.
Ty Hueckman took over on the mound for the Sweets after the delay, and opened the seventh inning.
A walk, an Atwood single, a stolen base, and the Knights had the tying run at second with no outs.
Hueckman struck out the next two, and got a groundout to retire the Knights and take the 4-2 lead to the eighth.
Jake Holcraft and Nick Yovetich collected back-to-back, one-out singles to open the Knights’ eighth.
With runners at the corners, Yovetich stole second and Holcraft stole home on the throw, and the Knights were within 4-3 heading to the home eighth.
“That guy (Yovetich) got such a great jump, we can’t throw that ball to second, you just eat it,” Mutz said of the double steal. “If we don’t throw it, we get them out and still have the 4-2 lead. These are things our guys are learning.”
As the eighth went in Tuesday’s season-opener, a five-run Sweets explosion, the Sweets put up a mini-version on Wednesday night.
Green doubled, and a walk and a hit batsman followed to load the bases with one out.
Caulfield recorded his fourth hit of the game, as he chopped one down the third base line that took a left turn and went for an infield hit to knock home Green.
Lopez was plunked to force home Tristan King, who had reached via walk, and the Sweets took a 6-3 lead to the ninth.
“Their guy had trouble throwing strikes,” Mutz said of the eighth-inning rally. “The good thing is that we were patient and didn’t swing the bat at pitches out of the zone.”
Dimick Wood, out of Walla Walla Community College, came on in the ninth to close this one out. Wood gave up a double, but struck out the side to earn the save in the 6-3 win.
The Sweets went for the sweep of the defending WCL champions in the brunch special this morning in a 10:35 a.m. start.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) is a big game for us,” Mutz added. “We really want to take this one (and sweep the series) to get off to a great start (in 2019).”
Sweets 6, Knights 3
Vassalakis, Arnsdorf (5), Fekete (6) and Lund; Hiirai, Boeneke (3), Hueckman (7), Wood (9) and King.
HRs — none.
Hits — Cor: Atwood 3, Murphy 2, Knight 2, Holcraft 2, Yovetich 2; WW: Caufield 4, Folz, Green 2, Lopez, King.