Walla Walla Sweets gain ground in playoff hunt

Walla Walla pulls out a 6-5 win over Bend in the 10th inning to move two games ahead of Bellingham in the WCL East.

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BEND, Ore. - It took over four hours, but the 6-5 extra-inning win for the Walla Walla Sweets was worth the wait on Thursday night.

Walla Walla rallied to tie the game in the eighth, and Chance Kopacz's RBI double in the 10th proved to be the winning hit as the Sweets took two of three from the Bend Elks and moved two games ahead of Bellingham in the East Division standings.

Trailing 5-3 in the eighth, it did not look good for the Sweets. Kopacz worked a one-out walk and advanced to second on a ground out.

With two outs, Denver Chavez drilled his second-straight double to dead center to score Kopacz and make it 5-4.

Alex Stanford followed with his third hit, a single to right-center that scored Chavez to tie the game at 5-5.

Then, in the 10th, Walla Walla rallied off Bend closer Jeff Brigham. Austin Heaps started the Sweets with a leadoff single, advanced to second on a Goose Kallunki bunt and was then pinch-run for by James Campbell.

A wild pitch moved Campbell to third, and Kopacz drilled a 2-2 curveball to right-center for an RBI double.

Bend, as they had all night, did not make it easy in the bottom of the 10th. Nick Wagner and Royce Bollinger notched back-to-back, one-out singles to put the tying run on second against Sweets closer Simon Anderson.

Unfazed, Anderson got Stetson Olson to pop out and then struck out Michael Benjamin to end the game and give the Sweets the series victory.

And that was just the final three innings. Bend nearly blew open the game in the first thanks to two Walla Walla errors and a torrential downpour. A dropped fly ball and a throwing error helped Bend load the bases off of Tim Culligan, but Stanford fielded a ground ball and threw to Chavez at second to end the inning.

Once the inning ended, the umpires took the teams off the field with a heavy rain falling. The rain delay lasted 30 minutes.

After the rain delay, the teams came out swinging. Bend starter Josh McAlister had set down the first six Sweets, but Walla Walla's Brenton Allen started the third with a single to right and was on third with two outs when Stanford ripped a double to deep right-center, making it 1-0.

The Elks did not waste any time rallying.

Culligan had two outs and a runner on first, but the Elks strung together three straight hits to score two runs. Jordan Brower singled up the middle to tie the game, and Ryan Dunn's single to right gave the Elks their first lead, 2-1.

The score remained there until the sixth as the Sweets left the bases loaded in the fourth.

In the sixth, Wentz singled and Heaps walked to start the inning. After two outs, Kevin Hawk ripped an RBI single to right to tie the game.

Chavez followed with a double that landed just inside the right field line to give the Sweets a 3-2 lead.

Again, Bend rallied in their next at-bats. After Culligan recorded the first out, Bend strung together four straight hits to score three runs to give the Elks a 5-3 lead.

That lead seemed like more than enough until the Sweets rallied. Jacob Overbay came on in relief of Culligan in the seventh and gave the Sweets a chance to make their comeback. He struck out two in the seventh, worked around a leadoff single in the eighth and then struck out two more in the ninth, including Toby Demello with runners on second and third to end the inning. The three scoreless innings stretched his streak to 22 2/3 innings of relief without allowing an earned run.

The Sweets win, coupled with Bellingham's 6-1 loss to Kitsap, gives Walla Walla a two-game lead in the West Coast League East Division standings with six games to play. The magic number is five, which means any combination of Walla Walla wins and Bellingham losses that equals five earns the Sweets their first playoff berth in franchise history.

The Sweets begin a three-game series against Cowlitz today at Story Field in Longview at 6:35 p.m. The Black Bears have won four of the first six meetings between the teams, and trail Bend by a half game for the final playoff spot in the West.

Sweets 6, Bend 5

Walla Walla 001 002 020 1 - 6 12 4

Bend 002 003 000 0 - 5 13 1

Culligan, Overbay (7), Anderson (10) and Hawk. McAlister, Cuneo (6), Chris (7), Brigham (9) and Demello.

HR - none.

Hits - WW: Stanford 3, Wentz 2, Heaps, Kallunki, Allen, Kopacz, Hawk, Chavez 2. Bend: Bollinger, Olson, Christian 2, Brower 2, Dunn 2, Demello, Hendrickson 2, Wagner 2.

Attend - 1,623.

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