WALLA WALLA - What a difference a day makes.
The Sweets swatted the ball safely through the infield in eight of 17 opportunities with runners in scoring position Wednesday - a day after batting 0-for-13 in the same category. The .470 runners-in-scoring-position clip - coupled with Ryan Richardson's pitching - powered the Sweets to an 11-3 victory over the Portland Ports at Borleske Stadium and salvaged a two-game series split.
The Sweets offense struck five times in the first inning on three doubles and three singles - all hard drives off Ports starter Shawn Dirkson. The Sweets opened with five consecutive hits, plating three runs in the process. Kyle Sani, hitting No. 7, plated another pair when he muscled a two-strike, one-out double into the left center field gap to put the home team up 5-0.
The Sweets scored twice more in the third on three hits and a Ports error.
Sweets manager J.C. Biagi believed his team scored a third run as well, when Sani attempted to score from first on a Jesus Martinez double.
Plate umpire Fritz Hartzheim ruled Sani out. Sweets pitching coach Mark Michaud exploded out of the dugout toward Hartzheim as Biagi charged down the line from his third base coach's position. Biagi waved Michaud off and began a heated argument with Hartzheim. After several bumpings, Hartzheim tossed a still jawing Biagi from the game.
Walla Walla tacked on insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings to build a 9-0 lead before the Ports put their first marks on the scoreboard in the seventh.
Sweets starter Richardson pitched through six-and-a-third innings of near shut-out ball. Richardson struck out 10 while walking only one, gave up six hits and allowed no earned runs.
Richardson, a product of Walla Walla Community College, struck out the side in the first inning. All 10 of his strike outs came swinging.
"Richardson's a bulldog every time he's been on the mound for us this year," Michaud said. "He led the team in strikeouts going into the game with eight; he blew that away tonight. He got himself in strikeout counts. He threw three pitches for a strike. When you do that you give yourself a chance to dominate."
"I just tried to get ahead in the count, and do the best I could to not try to overpower hitters, but let my guys behind me do the work," Richardson said. "Getting ahead is the key. Then the batters have no idea what's coming."
After Richardson's departure in the seventh, Mat Harjung pitched the remaining in two-and-two-thirds innings. Harjung struck out four more Ports while allowing no earned runs on five hits and one walk.
Jesus Martinez finished the game a home run short of hitting for the cycle. The Sweets center fielder doubled in the third, tripled in the fifth and singled in the seventh in going three-for-four on the day. Martinez's arm also saved a run in the seventh inning, when he cut down Portland's Kurt Snowley at the plate on a direct throw from center field.
Marshall Yanzick pushed his hitting streak to six games, with a first-inning single and a sixth-inning double.
Despite the win, the error bug plagued the Sweets Wednesday.
Walla Walla committed six errors, including three in the ugly seventh inning. That only two runs were scored in the seventh is due to Richardson and Harjung's pitching and quick relaying from the outfield, moving hits and miscues back to the infield before runners could advance more than a base.
The Sweets take to the road for a single game today versus Yakima of the Northwest League, a Class A minor league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Sweets resume league play Friday at home against the Cowlitz Black Bears.
Ports 000 000 201 - 3 11 3
Sweets 502 011 20x - 11 16 6
Dirkson, George (7) and Brown, Summers (8); Richardson, Harjung (7) and Daniel.
HR - none.
Hits - Ports: Hopp, Ley, Larson, Snowley 2, Kremer, Hough 2, Rowe 2, Summers; WW Sweets: Matthews 2, Poplawski, Yanzick 2, Strieby, Dupart 2, Daniel 3, Sani, Martinez 3, Dreiling.