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CDJR 2016

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SWEETS 2017 YEAR IN REVIEW

After winning 30 games a season ago, the Sweets entered the summer of 2017 with high expectations.

Third-year skipper Frank Mutz brought with him a young roster brimming with talent and potential. With Sweets fixtures such as Easton Lucas and Willie MacIver departing, the new-look ballclub promised to feature several up-and-coming bats as well as high-upside pitching.

If the Sweets caught the right breaks, the expectation was that 2017 would bring the postseason back to Borleske Stadium for the first time in four years.

But despite a terrific first half, the Sweets struggled mightily in July. Winning just 10 games across the month, Walla Walla’s season ended on August 6th,, the final day of the WCL regular season calendar.

Still, 2017 was crammed full of memorable moments and events.

Whether it was a three-game sweep of the Wenatchee AppleSox on opening weekend; Cameron Deere’s pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning against Gresham; the 16-inning game on July 3rd followed by July 4th’s 16-14 morning massacre; a three-game home sweep of Corvallis—the WCL’s top team by record—which included masterful starts by both Chris Lincoln and Darius Vines; eight runs in the 12th inning to beat Gresham on the road; two straight walk-off losses in Kelowna; or John Glenn’s offensive explosion during the season’s final weekend—the last thing the Sweets ever were this summer was unexciting.

Walla Walla received meaningful contributions from 43 different players, including eight recent high school grads who proved to be some of the club’s best players.

During the season, Nick Nyquist established new franchise records for games played (104), triples (6) and stolen bases (23). J.J. Hancock established a new single-season batting average mark (.360) and Jake Suddleson tied the team’s single-season RBI record (39).

The Sweets had four All-Stars—Nyquist, Hancock, Suddleson, and Vines—a WCL Pitcher of the Week in Chris Lincoln, and garnered their first WCL Player of the Week honors in two seasons thanks to John Glenn’s torrid finish.

Nyquist participated in the league’s Home Run Derby, and was the only right-handed hitter to make it out of the first round despite Yakima County Stadium’s impossibly deep left field fences.

Were you not entertained?

The Sweets didn’t win as many games as they would have liked to, finishing with an overall record of 25-29, which, although not the best mark in franchise history, was far from the worst. Still, they came within two games of winning the WCL North’s first half.

The Sweets were never shut out this year and were rarely they blown out. The team found itself with a chance to win nearly every game it played.

So with all this in mind, the Sweets present their annual Year in Review column, which briefly chronicles both the elative highs and the tumultuous lows of the summer of 2017.

 

FIRST HALF

June 2-4 | Sweets 4, AppleSox 0 | Sweets 5, AppleSox 4 | Sweets 7, AppleSox 6

The Sweets swept aside the Wenatchee AppleSox at home during 2017’s opening weekend. Nick Nyquist hit the team’s first home run and Billy Dimlow pitched five scoreless innings in the opener.

In game two, Jake Suddleson went deep, making it the first time in Sweets history that the team homered in each of its first two games of the year. Scott Parker struck out eight in five innings of work despite allowing the first of two homers on the night to Wenatchee’s Evan Johnson.

In the finale, Vinny Capra’s 12th inning walk-off single scored Suddleson and polished off a Walla Walla sweep.

 

June 5-7 | Elks 4, Sweets 3| Elks 5, Sweets 2 | Sweets 6, Elks 3

The Sweets inexplicably walked 12 Bend batters in the series opener, which was their first road game of the season. And the Elks utilized a 10th inning game-winning single by Jack Pauley to walk off on Walla Walla.

In the series finale, however, Tommy Henderson homered to left and rising freshman sensation Tim Josten delivered six innings of scoreless baseball with seven strikeouts in his first start.

 

June 8-10 | Lefties 4, Sweets 2 | Lefties 4, Sweets 1 | Lefties 8, Sweets 2

The three-game sweep in Port Angeles was an early-season nadir for the Sweets, who fell back below .500 despite winning three in a row to open the schedule.

Luke Fraley no-hit the team into the ninth inning of the middle game until Tommy Henderson’s ground ball single led off the ninth inning.

Losers of five of six on the road trip, the Sweets hoped their June struggles would be a mere stumbling block. Instead, it was a harbinger of things to come, as Walla Walla wound up posting the WCL’s worst road record at 7-20.

 

June 14-16 | Sweets 2, HarbourCats 1 | Sweets 2, ‘Cats 1 | Sweets 6, ‘Cats 5

After two days off and a non-league win over the River City A’s, the Sweets were back to their home dominance, this time knocking off eventually-playoff-bound Victoria in three straight one-run contests.

Due to a rainout, the latter two games of this series were played in the format of a doubleheader with two seven-inning contests. Behind 4-0, the Sweets scored six unanswered runs in the fifth and sixth innings of game three, rallying to stay perfect at Borleske Stadium. Dylan Riddle hurled 3.1 innings of scoreless relief and Isaac Esqueda, making his WCL debut, slammed the door on Victoria with a dominant sixth and seventh.

Infielder Shane Matheny departed the team after signing with the San Francisco Giants, who had picked him in the 23rd round of the MLB Amateur Draft out of Washington State Univeristy. Through 18 games played, Matheny is currently batting .347 for the Class-A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

Garrett Mitchell (14th round, A’s), Darius Vines (27th, Cubs), Adam Kerner (37th, Cardinals), and Haydn King (39th, A’s) were also selected but did not sign.

 

June 17 | Lefties 14, Sweets 3

The Sweets first home loss was also their second-worst margin of defeat all season, as they were blown out fair and square by the Port Angeles Lefties. All-Star starter Nick Bonniksen muted the Walla Walla bats and the Lefties stroked Sweets pitching for eight extra-base hits. The Sweets’ overall record stood here at 7-6. On June 18th, they would dispatch the West Coast Guns easily in a non-league game.

 

June 20-21 | Sweets 7, Pippins 6 | Pippins 7, Sweets 6

The Sweets came from behind to earn an early leg up in the Pacific Baseball Ventures rivalry series. Again trailing by four runs late, Walla Walla rallied for two in the eighth and three more in the ninth, capped by Jake Suddleson’s walk-off single.

Suddleson went deep again in the second game as Walla Walla rallied for another late run. But it wasn’t enough to push the Sweets ahead as the team split the two-game series with Yakima Valley.

 

June 23-25 | Sweets 6, HarbourCats 4, | ‘Cats 6, Sweets 1 | Sweets 7, ‘Cats 6

Walla Walla went into Victoria and took two of three. This is when the team really began to hit its stride.

The Sweets weathered a staggering eight home runs from the HarbourCats across this three-game series. Another stellar start by Josten, combined with a dominant ninth from Patrick Stanton got them a win in the opener.

After the ‘Cats bludgeoned the Sweets with four home runs in the middle game, the Sweets squeaked out a one-run win in the finale. Walla Walla took an early 6-1 lead but five unanswered runs in the Victoria seventh and eighth tied the game. But a wild pitch from Travis Kuhn scored Capra with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and Dimlow worked the save. The Sweets departed Canada with an overall record of 10-8.

 

June 27-29 | Sweets 7, GreyWolves 0 | ‘Wolves 6, Sweets 4 | Sweets 9, ‘Wolves 6

The Sweets had a non-league game against the Northwest Honkers scheduled for June 26th but it was rained out. The team played arguably its best and most complete all-around game of the season in the opener against Gresham.

This series marked the arrival of Garrett Mitchell, an outfielder committed to UCLA who was a consensus top-60 prospect in this year’s draft class. Mitchell blasted the first pitch of the first inning of game one over the electronic scoreboard in right field and into the Borleske Stadium parking lot. The towering home run was hit off eventual WCL strikeout leader Robert Reaser. Mitchell finished the game 3-for-4 with a double, a triple, a home run, and an outfield assist. Catcher Adam Kerner was also 3-for-4 and also homered. Meanwhile, Riddle tossed five innings and Cameron Deere, Ryan Johnston, and Esqueda teamed up to complete the shutout.

In the finale, the Sweets rallied for five runs in the seventh and eighth inning, and blew past an early 6-4 Gresham lead to win easily. The biggest hit of the game, and arguably of the entire season, was Deere’s pinch-hit, go-ahead three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

 

June 30 - July 2 | Sweets 7, Bells 5 | Sweets 5, Bells 4 | Bells 5, Sweets 3

Up in Bellingham, the Sweets powered past All-Star starters Holden Powell and Zach Pettway to take two out of three, though they would lose Mitchell due to illness by the time the series was over. John Glenn was 4-for-5 in the opener.

But in game three, the Sweets suffered their first truly demoralizing loss of the summer. Leading 4-1 into the ninth inning, Walla Walla pitching loaded the bases before a walk-off grand slam by Bells’ first baseman Kyle Stowers sent the Sweets reeling to an unexpected defeat. Looking back, the blast was probably a turning point in the team’s trajectory. But even despite the gut-punch, the Sweets bused home with an overall mark of 14-10. If they could sweep the Bells at Borleske over the July 4th holiday, they would win the division outright in the first half.

 

July 3-5 | Bells 12, Sweets 10 | Sweets 16, Bells 14 | Bells 6, Sweets 1

Here’s where the season officially went off the rails. Looking to exact revenge in the second end of the home-and-away megaseries, the Sweets played Bellingham into the 16th inning on July 3rd.

Perhaps most impressively, the Bells scored in the top of the 11th and the Sweets extended the game with a run of their own in the bottom half. Sweets pitching walked 14 and struck out 14 in nearly two entire game’s worth of action. Meanwhile, Sweets hitters struck out 18 times themselves. Five Sweets – Hancock, Nyquist, Capra, Henderson, and shortstop Jacob Blas – had three or more hits in the series opener. Conner Roberts, Parker, Kevin Calderhead, and Chris Lincoln combined to allow one run across 9.2 innings. But a 16th inning single by Colin Ridley put the Bells ahead and a single by Kody Matthews gave them an insurance run. The final out was recorded just before 12:30 a.m.

Astoundingly, the two sides were back at it merely hours later. Beginning their match at 10 a.m. on the holiday, Walla Walla topped Bellingham 16-14 in nine four-hour innings. Walla Walla scored 16 runs on just 13 hits, though they drew a season-high 11 walks. The Sweets took a 9-2 lead into the fifth inning, but by the time the seventh inning stretch came around, Bellingham had rallied to tie the score at 9-9. Seven unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth put the Sweets back ahead by a lot. Yet the Bells ripped off five scores in the ninth inning to jump right back into it. Milo Mincin recorded the final two outs, slamming the door and ending the Bells’ rally.

The Sweets ceded the postseason berth to the Kelowna Falcons after their game one loss. Walla Walla finished the first half with a record of 15-12.

 

 

SECOND HALF

July 6 | Sweets 6, Pippins 3

The Sweets were back on track, opening their second half with a 6-3 win over Yakima Valley to clinch the PBV series. It was a fresh start for a bedraggled team that was more than glad to be through with the Bellingham Bells for the summer. The team played loose and looked recharged. They built an early lead of 5-1 in the third inning and held it wire-to-wire. Josten, Parker, and Riddle combined pitch the Sweets to a 1-0 second-half start.

 

July 7-9 | Knights 8, Sweets 6 | Knights 6, Sweets 3 | Knights 11, Sweets 8

But the newfound positivity would be short-lived. The Sweets took an early 4-1 lead over Corvallis in the first game at Goss Stadium, but a grand slam for right fielder and No. 9 hitter Taylor Travess in the fourth inning put the Knights ahead for good.

Corvallis took a second-inning lead in the middle game and never let go, utilizing a scoreless start from lefty Jordan Horak and two home runs from then-WCL dingers leader Jordan Qsar.

And in game three, the two combatants traded blows until six runs in the bottom of the fifth blew the game open for the Knights. Still, a silver lining: Hancock collected four hits and raised his batting average to .385.

 

July 10-11 | GreyWolves 7, Sweets 2 | GreyWolves 5, Sweets 4

The Sweets dropped all five games on their Oregon road trip, sinking to an alarming 1-5. There was, however, still optimism that the team had plenty of time to string some wins together late in the second half.

Six innings from Reaser and a 5-for-5 performance by Gresham centerfielder Mike Peabody in the opener led the GreyWolves to an easy win.

In the second game, Gresham took a 5-0 lead after two innings. Starter Alex Roth pitched into the seventh inning until the Sweets figured him out. Tagging Roth for two runs in the seventh, and plating two more against the reliever Ryan Mets, Walla Walla climbed back into the ballgame. But Carter Buuck stomped the Sweets out with three scoreless innings of relief en route to the save.

 

July 12-13 | Sweets 6, Lefties 5 | Lefties 6, Sweets 4

The Sweets were back in the win column when they defeated Port Angeles for the first and only time all summer. Suddleson clubbed his team-leading sixth home run, a two-run shot in the first. On the mound, Chris Lincoln began to flash his abilities. Limiting the Lefties to one run in five innings, striking out seven, and walking just one, Lincoln gave the team its best start in quite some time.

But Port Angeles was able to wear Josten down the next day and built an early 5-1 lead. Jarrod Molnaa struck out six in four innings of long relief and held the visitors while the bats chipped away. Walla Walla would score four unanswered runs, but ultimately came just short.

 

July 14-16 | Elks 3, Sweets 2 | Elks 17, Sweets 14 | Sweets 13, Elks 7

Bend scored all three runs in the top of the seventh inning, shocking the Sweets in the series opener at Borleske. Darius Vines was nothing short of perfect in this game. Literally – Vines retired all 18 batters he faced, striking out 10 Elks in six innings. But Bend scored immediately after Vines was removed and stole the series opener. Elks starter Kris Jackson nearly matched Vines and carried the game nearly to its endpoint.

Jackson kept the Sweets scoreless, scattering two hits and punching out nine in eight dominant innings. The Sweets rallied for two in the ninth but stranded the tying run at third base.

The second game could not have possibly been more unlike the first. The Sweets scored eight times in the bottom of the fourth but Bend reeled off seven unanswered in the middle innings and sent this one to extras. Bend then blew the Sweets away with four runs in the top of the 12th. The game lasted nearly four and a half hours 10 different Elks totaled 20 hits, including Charlie Maxwell who finished 3-for-3 after subbing in during the seventh inning. The Sweets were kept scoreless for eight straight innings before scratching one across in the 12th.

But Walla Walla did manage a win in the finale. Nine Sweets totaled 10 hits and six of them went for extra bases, including the first of Johston’s three home runs. Isaac Esqueda was masterful, striking out seven in five muscular innings to earn the win.

 

July 17-18 | WCL All-Star Break | South 5, North 2

On Monday, Nick Nyquist was one of four entrants in the 2017 Home Run Derby to advance to the semifinal round. The only right-handed hitter to move on, Nyquist socked 11 big flies over the fence at Yakima County Stadium, where the outfield walls are as impossibly high as they are deep. The derby was won by Bellingham Bells catcher Chase Illig, who homered twice against the Sweets during the regular season. Illig set the WCL record with 15 home runs this summer.

In Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Nyquist started at third base for the North and batted second. Suddleson started in right field and hit seventh. Hancock was used as a reserve and got one at-bat after subbing in the seventh. And Vines pitched four outs and generated a key ground ball out after being summoned with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. Nyquist also had an RBI single.

 

July 19-21 | Sweets 3, Knights 0 | Sweets 6, Knights 2 | Sweets 7, Knights 4

Another candidate for game of the year: Chris Lincoln would go on to earn WCL Pitcher of the Week honors after stifling the Corvallis Knights in the first game after the All-Star break. In 6.2 shutout innings, the tall right-hander struck out 12 while scattering just two hits and five walks. Haydn King entered behind Lincoln and finished the shutout.

Vines followed Lincoln’s gem with another sterling effort in game two. One run on two hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in six innings gifted Vines his first win of the season. The only blemish was a solo home run to Matt Kelly. Across his two starts this week, Vines totaled 12 innings, one run, two hits, one walk, and 18 strikeouts.

The Sweets then dealt the Knights their first and only series sweep of 2017. Glenn had two hits, including his first home run, which bounced off the glove of Corvallis centerfielder Emilio Alcantar and over the outfield fence. New addition Daniel Fredrickson also had two hits and catcher Ryan Shaw had three. Josten shut down the Knights hitters, allowing just one unearned run in four innings before giving way to Kevin Calderhead, who struck out five in 3.2 innings of capable work.

Heading into the proverbial home stretch, the Sweets had lifted themselves back into contention and pulled their record to 6-8 after the rocky start.

 

July 22-24 | Black Bears 15, Sweets 2 | ‘Bears 4, Sweets 2 | ‘Bears 2, Sweets 1

The Sweets were rocked by the Cowlitz Black Bears on the road in Longview, WA. Cowlitz scored 15 runs thanks to five home runs (Cory Voss, Mark Pearson, Derek Scott, and two from Ryan Kim) in the series opener. Right-hander Joey Morris hurled five innings out of the Cowlitz bullpen, picking up the win.

The next two games were considerably tamer. Scott went deep again and third basman Nyles Nygaard went 3-for-3 behind starter Davis Baillie who one-hit the Sweets through six shutout frames in a Sunday matinée.

Finally, Cowlitz boke a 1-1 tie with a run in the bottom of the eighth inning on Monday when Kim scored on a sacrifice fly from Nygaard. Former Sweet Cole Henderson recorded the win against his former club. He was pitching in relief of the starter Cobi Johnson who limited Walla Walla to one run on three hits through seven innings.

 

July 25 | Sweets 12, Gresham 4

Nick Nyquist’s second home run was a three-run shot in the top of the first inning. But after Chris Lincoln departed on the heels of five more dominant innings, Gresham began their comeback, eventually plating the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. But the Sweets volcanically scored eight runs in the top of the 12th inning and breezed to a 12-4 victory. Joe Zimmer, making his first start at catcher in six years, drilled a two-run homer to straightaway center at Oslund Field to cap off the eight-run rally.

 

July 28-30 | Sweets 5, AppleSox 4 | AppleSox 7, Sweets 6 | AppleSox 8, Sweets 5

After splitting two non-league games with the Highline Bears, the Sweets embarked on a six-game road trip, beginning with a series against Wenatchee at Paul Thomas Field. They gutted out a 5-4 win in game one, despite Wenatchee scoring in both the eighth and ninth innings. Vines, Riddle, and Deere pitched three innings each, limiting the AppleSox to just four total hits.

Yet even though Walla Walla scored three runs in the top of the first inning of game two, the AppleSox answered with four in the bottom half. Wenatchee utilized the first home run of the summer from their All-Star centerfielder Dugan Shirer, as they outhit the Sweets 11-10.

The AppleSox scored seven of their eight runs from the fifth inning onward in the rubber match. They received three hits each from shortstop Jacob Prater and second baseman Adrian Vela. Esqueda started and gave the Sweets three scoreless innings but Wenatchee scored against every Sweets reliever.

After the series, Walla Walla’s second half record stood at 8-13.

 

July 31 – Aug. 2 | Falcons 6, Sweets 4 | Falcons 8, Sweets 7 | Falcons 6, Sweets 5

Air quality alerts abounded as the wildfires raged. The Sweets returned to a British Columbia that was much hazier than the one they departed in late June. During the first two games of this series, one could hardly see behind the outfield fences.

Kelowna defended their home turf, winning the opener 6-4 at Elks Stadium. Four Falcons batters had multiple hits and right-hander Ryan Smith earned the win thanks to five shutout innings of relief. Capra finished 4-for-5.

The middle game featured one of the unlikeliest rallies you will ever see in the West Coast League. Trailing 7-3 entering the ninth inning, Kelowna utilized a solo home run by Alex McGarry to cut the lead to 7-4. And then with two outs, five consecutive batters reached base to deliver Kelowna a walk-off win. Then-WCL RBI leader Taylor Wright struck the winning base hit; a routine grounder up the first base line that popped over the lip of the grass and bounded over Glenn’s head into right field.

Kelowna walked off again to end the series. This time, however, it took the Falcons 13 innings to victory. 10 Kelowna batters recorded hits. Johnston struck his second home run for the Sweets and from innings nine through twelve, he and Deere combined for 3.2 scoreless innings and stranded nine baserunners.

But Kelowna kept applying pressure and eventually the Sweets ran out of pitching. They summoned second baseman Ripken Reyes, pitching in his first game since his freshman year of high school, in for the 13th. Kade Hall delivered the winning hit.

 

August 4-6 | Falcons 10, Sweets 7 | Sweets 14, Falcons 11 | Sweets 15, Falcons 1

After an off-day, Kelowna picked right back up where they left off, beating the Sweets 10-7 at Borleske Stadium. Wright launched his 11th home run. But on a positive note, John Glenn went 4-for-5 with two doubles.

The middle game was fittingly one of the wildest of the year. Walla Walla took an early 5-0 lead thanks to four extra-base hits in the first inning alone, but surrendered 10 runs unanswered and fell behind 10-5. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, the Sweets struck for a season-high in single-inning offensive output.

They scored nine times and sent 14 batters to the plate, building a lead that would hold up for the rest of the night. Four Sweets batters had multiple hits and both Capra and Glenn finished with four. Glenn bopped three doubles and his second home run – a monstrous poke to dead centerfield and over the 412-foot distance marker.

Borleske Stadium groundskeeper Tim Duncan, who has worked every Sweets home game of the team’s existence, says he has never seen a ball hit out to dead center in our friendly confines.

Behind a 5-for-5 game from Glenn, the Sweets played one of their best games in team history, smothering the Falcons and winning 15-1 to bring their second half record to 10-17. Seven Sweets (Johnston, Capra, Hancock, Suddleson, Glenn, Nyquist, Shaw) had multiple hits as the team tallied 23 in total. It was their only three-homer game of the year (Johnston, Hancock, Capra). Scott Parker hurled six shutout innings on just two hits without a walk.

And, most importantly, the Sweets sent the home crown home glowing from one of the best nights of baseball there’s ever been in #SweetsCountry.

Unsurprisingly, Glenn was awarded WCL Player of the Week honors for his performance against Kelowna. With 18 hits on the week, and after going 13-for-16 in the series and raising his batting average to .316, it’s impossible to argue with that decision.

 

The Sweets may have missed the postseason, but 2017 was undoubtedly a year to remember in Walla Walla. With so many standout moments and performances, so many ups and downs, and so many close contests, 2017 was nothing if not exhilarating.

The team coalesced into one of the tightest-knit groups in the WCL. It was defined by its interpersonal chemistry and its resilience. And the 2017 Sweets depart as one of the most genuine and honorable groups of individuals to ever don the Walla2 caps.

 

More postseason content is coming this week and next.

 

by Ben Farber