Sweets 2019: A Year to Remember

The 2019 edition of the Walla Walla Sweets gave local fans plenty to cheer about during the franchise’s 10th season of West Coast League existence. Walla Walla commenced its season with an 8-0 start against WCL opponents, the best start in its history, achieved the franchise’s third 30-win regular season, and punched its first postseason ticket since 2013 after claiming the WCL South Division’s wild-card berth. The Sweets also garnered the franchise’s first playoff victory since 2011.

Now that we have you energized Sweets Nation, let us go forward with a rendezvous down memory lane.

Walla Walla – managed by Frank Mutz, assisted by Larry Price, Ryan Johnston, and Cameron Richman – opened 2019 by sweeping a three-game series with eventual league-champion Corvallis at Borleske Stadium by scores of 8-2, 6-3, and 5-3. Game one was tight until a five-run Sweets uprising in the bottom of the eighth inning left little doubt about the final outcome. Brock
Ephan had a pair of doubles while Patrick Caulfield, Parker Price, and Brandon Wagstaff joined him in the two-hit parade. Caulfield followed up his multiple-hit effort with four safeties in game two of the series as the Sweets survived their opponent and a pair of weather delays. David Le Bioda and Justin Folz, along with Caulfield, had two hit apiece as Walla Walla completed the season-opening sweep.

What did the Sweets do for an encore? They broomed Bend, 3-0, 9-6, and 16-11. Bryson Spagnuolo, Nick Irwin, Charles Harrison, and Reid Sebby combined on a four-hit shutout in the opener. Caulfield had two hits including a lead-off home run in the first inning and Cesar Lopez contributed two knocks and a seventh-inning RBI. Walla Walla built a 6-0 lead in the second game of the series, but had to scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to eke out a 9-6 triumph. Lopez and Folz homered, and Mason Kokodynski threw out the potential tying run at the plate in the eighth, to bring another sweep to fruition the following night.

Caulfield was named the West Coast League’s first Player of the Week after going 14-for-25 (.560 avg.) with seven stolen bases.

Following a pair of non-league wins at home over the Highline Bears to complete a spotless homestand, the Sweets ventured to Wenatchee for a three-game series with the soon-to-be, playoff-bound AppleSox over Father’s Day weekend. The series opener was highlighted by a two-out, two-run home run by Carson Green in the ninth inning that was the difference in a 3-1 Walla Walla win. The Sweets won game two of the set to improve to 8-0 in the WCL, but dropped the finale, 11-10, despite a 7-0 lead after two-and-a-half innings of play.

Walla Walla returned home for six-games at Borleske Stadium and registered series wins over Portland and Port Angeles. Big blows during this Borleske stay were a three-run homer by Caulfield in the series opener with Portland and a ninth-inning, walk-off bomb by Chazz Martinez in the middle game of the Port Angeles series, won by the home team by a 9-8 tally.

The Sweets went 3-3 on their first six-game road trip that closed out the month of June. Walla Walla dropped the first two games in Bend, 4-2 and 2-1, but rebounded for an 8-3 triumph in the series finale. Martinez started a five-run rally in the sixth inning of the latter battle with a home run. Walla Walla carried that momentum to Ridgefield and won the first two games of that set, 5-2 and 13-9, before dropping the last game of the series 6-3. Pitchers Landon Boeneke, Ty Hueckman, and Irwin teamed up to blank the Raptors on four hits over the first seven innings in the opener while Caulfield set the tone for a four-hit performance and a wild game two with a homer to lead off the matchup.

July started with a three-game home series against the Cowlitz Black Bears. The Sweets clobbered Cowlitz, 13-4, in the opener, dropped a heartbreaking 7-6 decision in the middle game of the series, then celebrated the Fourth of July with a 6-4 conquest. Ben Fariss capped a five-RBI night and Walla Walla’s scoring in game one with a grand-slam home run and Caleb Farmer keyed a four-run, sixth-inning rally on Independence Day with a two-run triple.

Walla Walla traveled north the first weekend of the month and dropped two out of three games to Kelowna to end the first half of league play with an 18-9 record. The Sweets did win the north-of-the-border finale, 6-3, thanks in part to a couple of RBI each from Michael Petrie and Connor Cirillo. It split two games in Bellingham, losing the opener 4-1 and taking the next outing, 11-7. The Sweets, who got three RBI from Martinez – including a two-run bomb in the second inning – and two runs batted in from Lopez, scored all of their runs in the victory over the Bells with two out.

Disappointment was the order of the week after non-league games with the Military All-Stars and Cascade Collegiate League. Walla Walla lost two of three games against Victoria, including a 19-inning marathon, and suffered a road sweep in Corvallis before heading into the All-Star Break.

Caulfield, Folz, and pitchers Travis Craven and Sebby,  represented the Sweets in the WCL’s version of the mid-summer classic.

Walla Walla resumed league play with a series win over Wenatchee at Borleske Stadium. The shining light was provided by Johnston, who no-hit the AppleSox for six-and-a-third innings in game two of the series, won by the good guys 3-2. He ended up with six-and-two-thirds innings worked, allowed just one run and one hit, and struck out eight. Lopez, Martinez, and Le Bioda backed up Johnston with an RBI apiece in the first inning. Ephan contributed a two-RBI double as the final piece of a four-run seventh inning in the series’ initial act.

The Sweets won three and lost three on their final six-game adventure away from Borleske Stadium that took them to Cowlitz and Portland, closed out the month of July, and spilled into August. Walla Walla got the big bats out against the Black Bears and scored 12 runs in each of the final two games of the series at Story Field on the Lower Columbia College campus in Longview, games that ended with desired results by 12-2 and 12-6 counts. Ephan had two hits in both of those games. Brayde Hirai and Boeneke allowed just one run apiece in the middle game. Ephan collected two more hits and a sacrifice fly in a July 31 win at Portland.

Walla Walla ended the home segment of its 2019 schedule with a 4-and-2 showing. Big moments spotlighted were a come-from-behind victory over Ridgefield and a post-season clinching conquest of Kelowna. Bryce Vitt hit a three-run double and Emanuel Dean singled him in as the Sweets rallied from a three-run, ninth-inning deficit to top the Raptors, 8-7. Hirai, Hueckman, Jake Dahle, and Sebby combined on a three-hitter in a 4-0 victory over the Falcons that helped Walla Walla secure its postseason ticket.

Ephan earned WCL Player of the Week honors by going 10-for-25 in Sweets games July 29-Aug. 4. He hit two home runs, drove in 11, and scored seven times.

The Sweets claimed win No. 30 of the season Aug. 10 with an 11-5 trouncing of Yakima Valley. Caulfield and Craven set all-time league records during the game. Craven tossed the first inning-and-a-third in his 13th start of 2019 and Caulfield stole his 41st base of the season in the sixth inning. Green clobbered a three-run home run in the third inning that put the Sweets up, 5-0. Craven, Boeneke, and Nate Dahle skunked the Pippins through the first seven frames.

Caulfield ended the regular season as the league’s seventh-leading hitter (.328) and Lopez was the third most prolific producer of runs batted in (39). Craven was 1-2 with a 1.99 earned run average. He threw 40.2 innings, allowed 30 hits, 11 runs, nine earned, walked 15 and struck out 41. Teammates Hueckman and Boeneke were part of a second-place log jam in the WCL with five wins.

The Sweets dropped the WCL South Division Series opener to the Knights, 6-3, at Borleske Stadium before keeping their season afloat with a dramatic game-two victory at Goss Stadium at Coleman Field. Caulfield tied the game in the ninth with a single and, one out and an intentional walk later, Folz towered a grand-slam home run to right field to shatter a 4-4 tie. Hirai capped the six-run blitz with an RBI single, then retired the Knights in order in the last of the ninth.

Walla Walla’s aspirations of reaching the WCL championships series ended the following evening after a 6-2 setback in the rubber game of the series.

Six Sweets received all-West Coast League recognition. Caulfield was named to the first team and Craven to the second team. Honorable-mention status went to Hirai, Lopez, Ephan, and Sebby.

Despite the hard-to-swallow ending, no one can doubt that this patch of Walla Walla Sweets produced memories that local baseball fans will remember for a long time and get them fired up for 2020. It will be here before you know it – perhaps another summer to remember.

By: Roy Elia

Date: August 27, 2019