WALLA WALLA - The goal of every baseball team is to score more runs than the opponent. And the usual means of doing so is by stringing together as many hits as possible.
Walla Walla produced two-hit innings just twice Friday night at Borleske Stadium against the Cowlitz Black Bears on only six hits - not enough to pick up the win.
So the Sweets turned to Plan B: stringing together as many Cowlitz errors as possible.
The Sweets scored five runs on two hits and two Black Bear errors in the fifth, and the winning run on two more errors without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the 11th to garner a 7-6 West Coast League win over Cowlitz.
Cowlitz got to Walla Walla starter Brian Biagi early, scoring a run in the first and three more in the third on two hits and three consecutive Sweets errors.
The Sweets responded to Cowlitz's early 4-0 lead by posting a five on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second.
First baseman Karsten Strieby led off the inning with a single through the hole at short, and was pushed to second when the next batter, catcher Josh Daniel, was hit by a pitch. Manager J.C. Biagi elected to sacrifice James Stanfield to put both runners in scoring position. The move paid dividends, when center fielder Scott Gottschling singled Strieby in a batter later.
It looked like the Sweets might get only one run as second baseman Jordan Dreiling hit a double-play ball to Cowlitz shortstop Michael Hoo. But Hoo botched the toss to second baseman Duncan Satherlie, shoveling the ball past Satherlie into shallow center field. Daniel scored, while Gottschling and Dreiling arrived safely at their respective bases.
Right fielder Christian Ramirez was walked by Cowlitz starter Ben Dorman to load the bases.
Dorman poppped leadoff batter Denver Chavez to right field, but fielder Pierce Bily dropped the easy fly, allowing two more Walla Walla runners to score.
Two pitches later, Chavez attempted to steal second. Dorman moved to first base to pick off Chavez, who was already in motion. First baseman Jordan Fox got the throw and relayed it to second, well ahead of Chavez, but Chavez slid safely under the tag. Ramirez, meanwhile, scored on his own delayed steal from third picking up the fifth and final run of the inning.
Biagi pitched scoreless third and fourth innings, retiring the Black Bears in order both times - save a ‘reached on error,' then was pulled in the fifth after allowing the first two batters aboard.
Reliever Kody Young came on and gave up one run on a fielder's choice and another when his Walla Walla teammates botched their own shot at an inning-ending double play. Cowlitz regained the lead, 6-5.
Young pitched a scoreless top of the sixth, and teammates Ramirez and Chavez tied it in the bottom of the frame on back-to-back two-out hits.
Young gave way to eventual winner Zach Clanton in the seventh, who threw five innings of two-hit shutout baseball, striking out six.
Clanton allowed his two base knocks in the top of the 11th.
With Fox on at second and one down, hot-hitting Cowlitz designated hitter Nolan Clark lined his fifth hit of the night into right field. Right fielder Ramirez came up firing, attempting to hold Fox to third base or cut him down coming home. Clark made a wide turn at first, expecting to take second on the throw home, but Strieby cut off the throw a few feet inside first base, catching Clark in no-man's land. Strieby checked Fox backed to third, then chased Clark to second base while staring Fox's direction. At the last moment, Strieby threw to second base for the put-out on Clark - the second out of the inning.
Clanton struck out Ryan Sheeks to end the Cowlitz threat.
Eleventh inning leadoff batter Gottschling earned first on an E-6. Dreiling followed up by sacrificing Gottschling to second.
Ramirez struck out the next batter, but the ball hit the dirt, enabling Ramirez to scramble for first. With no sense of urgency, Cowlitz catcher Sheeks gathered the ball, paused, then fired a rocket to Fox at first base. Sheeks' fastball sailed high, and though Fox put leather on it, he was unable to pull it down. Ramirez reached safely.
"He threw a pretty nasty curve ball into the ground. I swung and just started running. I noticed the first baseman putting his glove to the inside, so I instinctively moved just a little to the inside trying to force a bad throw and luckily for me, it worked," Ramirez said.
Cowlitz reliever Joey Politano intentionally walked Chavez to load the bases, bringing hitless Danny Poplawski to the plate.
Politano's first pitch to Poplawski struck the big third baseman in the thigh, ending the game with an almost anticlimactic walk-off hit batter.
"The game should never probably have gotten to that point (considering the errors), but with Kody Young going out and giving us a good effort and Zach Clanton pitching lights out, and then getting the run in the bottom of the eleventh, it was a good game," Sweets manager Biagi said. "We take away errors, we take away walks and we're an entirely different team."
"It was intensity ," Clanton said. "The team's work around here has been ruthless. We don't let the little things affect us, and we've all been striving off each other's intensity."
The win pushed Walla Walla's record above .500 for the second time this season.
The Sweets are 4-3 and in sole possession of second place, a game behind Wenatchee going into the weekend's remaining games with Cowlitz.
Cowlitz 130 020 000 00 - 6 11 5
Walla Walla 050 001 000 01 - 7 6 5
Dorman, Sandoval (4), Briner (7), Dennis (7), Politano (10) and Turay, Sheeks (9); Biagi, Young (5), Clanton (7) and Daniel.
HR - none.
Hits - Cowlitz: Rowe 2, Fox 2, Clark 5, Turay, Bily; WW Sweets: Chavez, Strieby 2, Gottschling, Ramirez 2.