The Sweets were two outs from a 3-1 victory over Bellingham on Sunday afternoon at Joe Martin Field.
But in an instant, the game slipped away.
With one out and the bases empty, two singles and a walk set the stage for Bellingham’s 1B Kyle Stowers (Stanford) to drill a walk-off grand slam home run deep over the fence in right-centerfield.
To be sure, Sunday’s loss felt like a body blow at the time. But thanks to an equally miraculous four-run rally by the Yakima Valley Pippins in the bottom of their ninth inning against the Kelowna Falcons, the Sweets first-half playoff hopes remain solidly within their control.
RHP Darius Vines (Oxnard CC) was fantastic on Sunday in what was easily his best start of the season. The 27th round pick of the Chicago Cubs tossed four innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out five without a walk.
For Vines, who has battled control issues this season, Sunday’s effort was extremely encouraging. The six-foot-one right-hander thoroughly overwhelmed the Bells bats, routinely running his fastball up to nearly 90 mph.
On the other side, Bellingham’s RHP Zach Petteway (UCLA) was solid but hittable.
Even though Bellingham scored the first run of the ballgame – SS Ernie Yake (Gonzaga) tripled and scored on a wild pitch – the Sweets answered immediately.
DH Jake Suddleson (Harvard) pounded his team-leading fourth home run deep to left off of Petteway, who was also nearing 90 mph, to lead off the fourth inning.
Suddleson also leads the Sweets with 18 RBI after Sunday’s game.
Walla Walla went ahead with another run in the fifth. A leadoff walk to CF Danny Sinatro (Washington State) followed by a base hit from SS Jacob Blas (Arizona) put runners on the corners with none out for LF Ryan Johnston (UC-Irvine) who rolled a productive ground ball, scoring Sinatro and putting the Sweets on top.
The team added an insurance run in the top of the eighth. Backed by RHP Matt Amrhein (Cal Baptist), who fired four scoreless innings in relief of Vines, the Sweets utilized an RBI single by Suddleson that plated 3B Nick Nyquist (Gonzaga), who had reached on a two-out fielding error.
But in the ninth, the damage came fast and furious.
A one-out single from CF Austin Pinorini (Bellevue CC), followed by a single from DH Austin Shenton (Florida International) chased Amrhein from the game.
RHP Cameron Deere (Brown) entered the ballgame and walked RF Max Flower (California) before serving up the game-ending longball to Stowers.
LHP Trevor DeLaite (Maine) was the game’s winning pitcher (2-0). Deere (2-1) took the loss.
The Bells will travel to Walla Walla early on Monday morning and meet the Sweets for three more at Borleske. The games will be Monday night, Tuesday late-morning (10:05 a.m. start time on the holiday), and Wednesday night.
In game one, LHP Dylan Riddle (UC-Irvine) who is 1-0 with an ERA of 0.67 for the Sweets will oppose RHP Rogelio Reyes (California).
With Riddle on the mound, the Sweets love their chances. Last time out, Dylan blanked Gresham for five innings en route to the victory.
With three games remaining in the first half, the Sweets and Bells – as well as the Wenatchee AppleSox – are all tied at 14-10. The tangled trio chases first-place Kelowna who, at 16-10, has just one more game to play in their first half.
The Falcons will meet Yakima Valley tomorrow night for the series finale in Yakima.
The Sweets can win the division with a three-game sweep over Bellingham. After the opening-weekend sweep, Walla Walla owns the tiebreaker over Wenatchee and a series win would clinch the season series over Bellingham.
Since Walla Walla and Kelowna do not face each other until the second half, the second tiebreaker (after head-to-head record) is record in divisional play. The Falcons gorged themselves on the bottom of the WCL South for much of the first half. Kelowna is just 6-3 in first-half games against Northern Division opponents.
The Sweets, at 10-6 presently, can ride a sweep to a superior first-half intra-division winning percentage.
If Kelowna loses, things get more complicated. That’s a scenario we will deal with if and when it happens.
Right now, the Sweets just need to win one game at a time.
They’ll take the field at Borleske Stadium in search of the first of those wins Monday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
by Ben Farber
Audio Highlights -- Suddleson's HR