WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla Sweets manager J.C. Biagi experienced his share of winning baseball games at DeSales’ Ray Lane Field while playing for the Irish before graduating in 2000.
This summer, Biagi has the Sweets doing their share of winning just over the Ray Lane Field fence at Borleske Stadium.
And they’re winning at the right time, having swept two-time West Coast League champion Wenatchee in the East Division playoffs over the weekend.
Tonight, Biagi leads the Sweets against the Corvallis Knights in the opening game of the WCL championship series at Borleske Stadium at 7:05 p.m.
Biagi, who played at Walla Walla Community College for two seasons before heading to Centenary College of Louisiana to finish his playing career, said the Sweets’ turnaround this season came during a road trip to Bellingham and Kitsap in early July. Walla Walla was 12-17 after going 1-2 in Bellingham, but then swept Kitsap. The Sweets finished the regular season with a 14-11 record, good for second place in the WCL East Division.
"We kind of re-committed ourselves to the summer," Biagi said of the trip. "It was an opportunity to get better and win some baseball games."
After clinching the second playoff spot in the WCL East in the final week of the season, the Sweets took two of three games from Wenatchee in the final regular-season series at Borleske.
The playoff sweep of Wenatchee "was the culmination of a summer of work," Biagi said.
The Sweets smacked 26 hits in the two playoff victories over the AppleSox, production Biagi said he knew the team had in it.
"Offensively, we’ve had a little bit of a surge of late," he said. "We knew throughout the year what the guys are capable of — you see parts of that. It’s basically what we knew we had all along. You see the guys hitting the ball hard and they’re falling in (for hits). It’s been very nice (offensively), and with the quality of pitching we’ve had, I like our chances (in the championship series)."
Biagi said he doesn’t have a set pitching rotation. Taking the mound for the Sweets tonight is Brett Watson, whose 1.62 ERA is third in the WCL (No. 1 is teammate Ryan Richardson at 1.53).
"Brett has been right up there, as good as anybody when it comes to general numbers," Biagi said. "He’s given us some really good outings.
"The only thing he’s struggled with all year is walks. If he gets those down, or eliminates those, he’ll be very effective."
Biagi didn’t know Monday who Corvallis is sending to the mound tonight. But he has ample respect for the Knights, who finished 37-17 to win the WCL West and beat the Sweets in four of six games during the regular season.
"With the exception of one game, all the games have been very close," Biagi said. "They’re deep, and the middle of their order has been effective. They’ve got a great core group of guys.
"I wouldn’t categorize them as a super-offensive team. And they have a few left-handers that are pretty good on the mound, which I’d imagine we’ll see.
"We’re looking forward to it," he said. "It’ll be exciting, another good showing."
The schedule for the championship series, with tonight’s game in Walla Walla followed by 6:40 p.m. starts Thursday and Friday, if necessary, in Corvallis, is rotated each season.
Having the final game or games in Corvallis hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the Sweets, Biagi said.
"We pulled in (at Walla Walla) Sunday about 11 a.m. (following the Wenatchee game) and there was a huge group of supporters as the bus pulled up," Biagi said. "It’s (the support) has been very cool. I got to the office this moring at 8:45 a.m., and there was a line forming in front of the Sweets Shoppe.
"The town has taken to this, it’s really starting to become something bigger than us. It’s taken on a life of its own. The town kind of owns it.
"It’s Walla Walla’s team."