LONGVIEW, Wash. - With a playoff berth on the line, the Wallla Walla Sweets rallied from 4-2 down to tie the game in the ninth inning, and Alex Stanford's home run in the top of the 10th gave them the only lead they would need in a 5-4 victory over the Cowlitz Black Bears at Story Field.
The comeback victory, the fifth this summer when the Sweets have trailed after seven, coupled with Bellingham's comeback victory over Wenatchee, lowers the Sweets magic number to one, but does not clinch a playoff spot. Walla Walla needs to either win one game against Wenatchee or have the Bells lose one to Kelowna over the next three games.
On Sunday, the Sweets played catch-up all night long and finally caught the Black Bears in the ninth inning. Andrew Mendenhall and Zach Wentz singled to put runners on the corners with two outs and Scott Gottschling ripped a 1-2 curveball up the middle to tie the game at 4-4.
Jimmy Litchfield got Cowlitz 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, and the Sweets went to work in the 10th.
James Campbell worked a leadoff walk, but Cowlitz reliever Richi Sandoval picked him off for the first out and struck out the next batter.
That brought Stanford to the plate, and the Gonzaga product unloaded on a 2-0 fastball and drove it well over the wall in right-center to give Walla Walla its only lead of the night.
Sweets reliever Simon Anderson came on in the bottom of the 10th and picked up his fifth save as he struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning.
The long ball not only helped the Sweets win the game, but it helped them get back into it. Trailing 2-0 in the fourth, Chance Kopacz crushed his first home run of the summer into the bullpen in left-center to make it 2-1. The Black Bears battled back to make it 3-1 but Elliot Stewart turned on an inside pitch to start the sixth and sent it soaring over the party deck down the left field line to make it 3-2. Cowlitz again responded with a single run in the sixth but the Sweets came right back in the seventh.
Stanford started the inning with a single to right and stole second with one out, his seventh-straight game with a stolen base.
Facing Cowlitz reliever Andrew Lines, Mendenhall stroked a single to left to make it 4-3. That set up Gottschling's and Stanford's heroics in the ninth and 10th.
It would not have got that far if not for the pitching of Litchfield. The lefty entered the game in the fifth inning with a run already across and the bases loaded with one out. He promptly induced a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play and went on to throw 4 2/3 innings of one-run relief and earned his third win of the summer.
Facing a bases loaded, one-out situation in the seventh, Litchfield allowed just a sac fly, escaping further damage thanks to a running catch from Gottschling in left.
Walla Walla wraps up its regular season with a three-game series against Wenatchee at Borleske Stadium, beginning at 7:05 p.m. tonight.
Sweets 5, Black Bears 4
Walla Walla 000 101 101 1 - 5 14 2
Cowlitz 020 011 000 0 - 4 13 3
K. Anderson, Litchfield (5), S. Anderson (10) and Stewart. Ekery, Lines (7), Sandoval (9), Dollar (10) and Graham.
HR - WW: Stanford, Stewart, Kopacz.
Hits - WW: Stanford 3, Mendenhall 4, Wentz, Stewart 2, Gottschling, Kopacz 2, Brackenridge. Cow: Miller 2, Velazquez, Schwartz 2, Walding 3, Cunningham 2, Graham 3.