Walla Walla-- Making their first playoff appearance in team history, the Walla Walla Sweets looked like they had been there before on Friday night, picking up 14 hits and defeating the Wenatchee Applesox 9-4 at Borleske Stadium.
The Sweets found themselves in a immediate hole in the first inning but responded by scoring the games next eight runs to take game one of the best-of-three East Division Playoff series. They will look for the sweep on Saturday night in game two of the series at Paul Thomas Sr. Field in Wenatchee.
On Friday, Payden Cawley-Lamb tripled to right-center and Ryan Barnes doubled to left-center to start the game and give Wenatchee a 1-0 lead after two batters. Walla Walla starter Ryan Richardson settled down to retire the next six batters in a row and the offense finally got to Applesox starter Alex Phillips in the third.
In that third inning, the Sweets erased that 1-0 deficit with four runs and never looked back. Kalani Brackenridge and Alex Stanford started the inning with singles and then the Sweets got a break on a Denver Chavez bunt. Chavez's bunt was down the first base line and it kicked foul as Wenatchee first baseman Brock Gates came sliding in. The home plate umpire ruled the ball hit Gates in fair territory and it loaded the bases for the Sweets. Andrew Mendenhall followed with an RBI single to left to tie the game, Zach Wentz's double play grounder made it 2-1 and Pat Valaika bobbled Elliot Stewart's ground ball to make it 3-1. Chance Kopacz capped the inning by driving a triple all the way to the right-center wall to make it 4-1.
Phillips, who had allowed just three runs on ten hits over 18 innings against the Sweets in the regular season, did not make it to the fifth. Chavez made sure of that in the fourth, drilling a 2-0 pitch to the same spot as Kopacz for an RBI triple, scoring Stanford and making it 5-1.
Meanwhile, Richardson was making the most of the opportunity to start the Sweets first-ever playoff game. After setting down six-straight, Erik Munzer touched him for a leadoff single in the third but Richardson pounced off the mound to snag Cawley-Lamb's bunt in the air and doubled Munzer off of first. The right-hander did not allow another hit until the eighth inning. He allowed a one-out walk in fourth but Kopacz helped him with a running over the shoulder catch in right and then again in the fifth with two marvelous catches, the second a sliding catch on a shallow fly from Valaika.
Held in check in the fifth, the Sweets got back on the sticks in the sixth, scoring three runs on four consecutive hits. Kopacz, his third hit, and Goose Kallunki started the inning with singles and Scott Gottschling's bunt was thrown down the right field line, scoring a run and putting runners on second and third. Brackenridge followed with a two-run single to center to make it 8-1.
Wenatchee made one final push in the eighth inning and finally got to Richardson. Gates drove a two-run double to right-center with two outs to make it 8-3 and Valaika followed with an RBI triple. That ended Richardson's night and brought Jimmy Litchfield on. The left-hander induced a pop up to end the inning and then struck out two of three in the ninth to close the door. Richardson ended his night allowing four runs on six hits with five strikeouts.
Walla Walla got three hits and two runs from Stanford and Brackenridge and three hits from Kopacz. Cawley-Lamb scored two runs and Barnes was the only Applesox player to have multiple hits. Three Wenatchee relievers gave up four runs over the final four innings. The win is the third-straight for WW over the Applesox this week.
The Sweets will turn to former Applesox Tim Culligan in game two on Saturday night. The right-hander will be opposed by WCL wins-leader Owen Jones. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Paul Thomas Sr. Field.