Friday win puts Sweets ahead in WCL Playoff race

Ryan Richardson throws through seven innings in the Sweets' 9-4 playoff win over Wenatchee.



Sweets' third baseman Zach Wentz steps in to slow down a grounder that passes to his right during the Sweets' game against the Wenatchee Applesox Friday evening.


Fingers clutching the ball a moment before it is released, Sweets' starting pitcher Ryan Richardson pitches late into the Sweets' playoff game against the Wenatchee Applesox Friday evening.


Sweets' base runner Chance Kopacz (right) rolls in to third base, fingertips out to touch the bag as Wenatchee Applesox third baseman Adam Nelubowich (left) reaches for the tag during the Sweets' third inning.


Sweets right fielder Chance Kopacz makes a leaping, over-the-shoulder grab for the out on a long fly ball off the bat of a Wenatchee player Friday evening.

WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla put it all together in its first ever West Coast League baseball playoff action here Friday.

The Sweets pounded out 14 hits, got seven innings of one-run baseball from starting pitcher Ryan Richardson and played solid defense to earn a 9-4 win over Wenatchee and take a 1-0 lead in their best two-of-three East Division playoff series.

"All those things we've talked about all year long came together," Sweets manager J.C. Biagi said. "It was a really, really quality night. It was a great performance all the way around."

But it didn't get off to a great start as league batting champion Payden Cawley Lamb led the game off with a triple, then Ryan Barnes followed with a double to plate Cawley Lamb and the AppleSox led 1-0 with no outs in the first inning.

"I couldn't let it get to me," Richardson said of the AppleSox start. "I just had to go out and do my thing and do what I've worked on all year - throwing strikes."

Richardson retired the next six AppleSox hitters in order, and took a three-hitter and an 8-1 lead into the eighth before Wenatchee scored three times to end Richardson's night.

The league's ERA leader finished with five strikeouts and limited a team that scored 45 runs and hit .292 against the Sweets in the regular season to one run and three hits through seven innings.

"I had pretty much everything going," Richardson said. "I spotted my fastball pretty well, my slider was pretty sharp, and I worked the change up a little bit to get them to roll over. I got a little tired in the eighth and they really had my number. (But) it was good to get this one."

A Sweets swinging bunt that went all of 45 feet down the third baseline and then stayed fair on the roll ignited the Sweets' third inning, when Kalani Brackenridge legged out the infield hit to open the floodgates.

"A hit's a hit and I'll take it," Brackenridge said. "It was a team effort. I got on base and they brought me in. Right from there we started rolling and just picked up the momentum."

Alex Stanford, the league's No. 2 hitter, followed with a single, Denver Chavez put down a sacrifice bunt that Wenatchee touched before it rolled foul, and the bases were loaded with no outs.

Andrew Mendenhall hit the first pitch he saw into left field to score Brackenridge to tie the game. Stanford scored on a double play grounder and Elliot Stewart reached on an error that allowed Chavez to score.

Chance Kopacz drove a triple to right center to score Stewart and the Sweets had the lead for good at 4-1 after three.

"It's amazing what happens when you put the ball in play," Kopacz said of the Sweets third-inning start. "Hitting is contagious and once we got it going, we had a heck of a game."

A Chavez RBI triple tacked on a Sweets run in the fourth for a 5-1 lead.

Kopacz lead off the home sixth with a single, his third hit of the game, and started a three-run sixth.

"I was feeling it tonight, I guess," Kopacz said. "We (all) came out blood thirsty and tried to get these guys."

Brackenridge, who also finished with three hits, drove in two with a single to cap the three-run Sweets sixth and give WW an 8-1 lead after six.

The Sweets answered the AppleSox three spot in the eighth with a run of their own. Brackenridge led off with an infield hit and scored from first on Stanford's double, also his third hit of the game, as the Sweets ran the final to 9-4.

And then there was the defense and Jimmy Litchfield's relief pitching.

Kopacz, in right field, came up with six put outs, including an over the shoulder grab, a sliding catch and a catch in front of the short fence in right center, to lead the defensive effort.

"I had quite a few balls hit out there," Kopacz said. "This field is pretty dark, but I was getting pretty good reads on the ball tonight."

And then there was Litchfield, relieved Richardson with two outs in the eighth. The UC-Irvine lefty simply retired all four batters he faced to nail down the 1-0 series lead for the Sweets.

"It was a great night," Biagi said. "We're in it to stay in it (the WCL playoffs). We think we can get to where we want to go."

On this night, it was the defending WCL champions who showed the playoff jitters. The AppleSox were forced into five errors by the aggressive Sweets offense and the Sweets took advantage.

"It was the crowd," Brackenridge said. "The crowd came here with great energy and that gave us good energy. We took it from there as we had to please the crowd."

The Sweets picked up a 5-4 win Saturday night in Wenatchee to complete the playoff series sweep and put them into the championship game against the winner of today's Corvallis-Bend game on Tuesday at Borleske in the opener of the West Coast League Championship Series.

"We'll try to go down there and get a W," Brackenridge said of Wenatchee's Saturday game. "We want to come back here for these fans."

Walla Walla 9, Wenatchee 4

Wenatchee 100 000 030 - 4 6 5

Walla Walla 004 103 01x - 9 14 1

Phillips, Brooks (5), Tygerson (7), Bigelow (8) and DeGuire; Richardson, Litchfield (8) and Stewart.

HR - none.

Hits - AppleSox: Cawley Lamb, Barnes 2, Munzer, Gates, Valaika; Sweets: Kopacz 3, Brackenridge 3, Stanford 3, Mendenhall, Chavez 2, Gottschling, Kallunki.


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