WALLA WALLA, Wash– The Walla Walla Sweets wrapped up their 13th season with a 20-34 record. While the result may not have been what the Sweets were looking for Walla Walla still saw some notable performances and even one of the greatest individual seasons in Sweets history.
In the first year under the direction of Jarrod Molnaa the Sweets saw some ups and downs however, saw some of the most impressive performances in Sweets history.
Offensively the Sweets had one of their most impressive seasons to date finishing 4th in hits and 6th in runs scored in the WCL. The Sweets finished with a team batting average of .261 which is the highest for the Sweets since 2017 where the Sweets finished with a .275 average.
While as a unit offensively the Sweets were impressive, one Sweet ranked amongst the league’s best as Ben Parker captured Walla Walla’s first-ever batting title finishing with a .366 average. With the Sweets, Parker ranked among the Sweets best not only in batting average but also in home runs (1st/2), RBIs (30/1st) and slugging (.490/1st). Due to Parker’s incredible year playing at his home ballpark at Borleske Stadium the former member of the Whitman Blues captured a 1st team All-WCL selection.
Parker wasn’t the only Sweets outfielder to be recognized as one of the league’s best as freshman outfielder Aidan Espinoza followed the lead set by Parker and also gained 1st team All-WCL honors. Espinoza was the Sweets’ biggest contributor down the stretch finishing the year with a .331 average with 2 HR and 29 RBIs finishing right behind Parker for the team lead in most categories. In the final weeks of the season, Espinoza was looked at as one of the top stars in the WCL finishing the year with four straight multi-hit games, games with a run scored, and games with an RBI. the UCLA incoming batted .458 with 1 HR, 7 RBIs, and 7 runs scored in the final six games of 2023.
The Sweets captured three more All-League selections as two more position players took home hardware as Payton Knowles (Gonzaga) and Kennedy Hara (Colorado Mesa) both were selected as honorable mentions. Knowles finished with a .360 average and finished with the 2nd highest batting average in the WCL and was the third Sweet to bat over .300 on the season. Hara finished the year batting just below .300 at .299 however since debuting for the Sweets on June 9th made an immediate impact working at the top of the order. Both Hara and Knowles were incredibly consistent as both middle infielders had over 20 game on-base streaks in 2023, with Knowles breaking the all-time Sweets record for longest on-base streak at 27 games.
On the defensive side, the Sweets were highlighted by some outstanding starting pitching from the Missoula, MT native and Walla Walla CC alumnus Zach Hangas (Ottawa AZ). Hangas finished the year with a 4-2 record and 3.88 ERA and ranked fourth in innings pitched in the WCL with 53.1 IP on the year. Hangas picked up wins in each of his final three starts going a total of 24.2 innings to end the year, including the Sweets’ first complete game since 2015.
On July 19th, 2023 Zach Hangas signed himself a spot in Sweets history as For the first time in eight years the Walla Walla Sweets had a pitcher go the distance. Hangas pitched a complete game giving up only one run as the Sweets beat the Drifters 2-1, which only started a three-game span for Hangas where he only seemed to get better. In his final three starts with the Sweets Hangas pitched a total of 24.2 innings with a 1.46 ERA in that period.
The Sweets all year long were a team that could shock the best of them and multiple times throughout the season the Sweets lived up to that and no bigger than when the Sweets traveled to Goss Stadium in the middle of June. on Father’s Day, the Sweets made the trip to Corvallis to square off with the Knights in a matchup that not many expected to be competitive. The Sweets took the initial game of the series but down to only two coaches after first-year Manager Jarrod Molnaa was ejected two games prior the Sweets were looked to drop the middle matchup but this was not the case. Walla Walla proceeded to put up 9 runs in the first two innings to have them coast to victory over the Knights thanks in part to the big bats of Parker and Manny Casillas who both finished with more than three RBIs and seven combined between the two.
The Sweet’s upsets wouldn’t end there however as on the Fourth of July the Sweets would defend their country and take down the North Division champion Victoria HarbourCats taking two of three vs. the HCats at home. The Sweets also would start the downfall of the 1st Half Champion Ridgefield Raptors as Walla Walla took four of six on the year vs. the first-half champs including the final two at the RORC.
However, one of the wildest moments of the season came in the final installment of the Battle of the Basin as the Sweets trailed by six runs in the 9th inning vs. Yakima Valley but that wasn’t for long. It all started with Pu’ukani De Sa hitting an RBI double to get the Sweets back on the board late in the ball game. Mason Millar backed it up with an RBI ground out to make it a 10-6 game in the ninth but put two outs on the board. The Sweets needed to rally and did just that as Vicente Feliciano drove in a pair of runs to cut the lead to one. Feliciano came in to score moments later as Cayden Wotipka was walked with the bases loaded and the Sweets and Pippins were suddenly tied in the final frame. With the bases still loaded Espinoza got it done driving in Kennedy Hara on a base hit up the middle, to give the Sweets an 11-10 lead in the ninth which the Sweets held onto taking the final game of the Battle of the Basin.
NUMBERS AND NOTES.
BATTING AVG –Ben Parker (William & Mary HR- .366)
HR- Parker, Wotipka, Espinoza- 2
RBIs- Ben Parker 29
On Base Percentage- Payton Knowles (Gonzaga) .468
ERA- Jeb Callaghan (SEMO) 1.50, Jaxon Henderson (Northwest Nazarene) 1.84, Cam Soliz (TAMUCC) 2.01
Wins- Hangas 4, Heitaro Hayashi 3, Aidan Aitken 2