WALLA WALLA - The game of baseball can work in mysterious ways.
A night after the Bend Elks road two first inning runs to a 2-1 victory, the Walla Walla Sweets road a three-run first to a 3-1 victory over the Elks on Thursday night at Borleske Stadium.
Pitching with the 3-0 lead, Sweets starter Aaron Hoverson worked out of several jams to throw six innings and Jimmy Litchfield pitched three scoreless innings of relief to earn the save.
Coming off a start in which he did not get out of the third inning, Hoverson walked the first batter of the game but got a 6-4-3 double play and faced the minimum over the first two innings.
Bend had its first big chance with back-to-back singles to start the third but Hoverson stabbed a comeback with runners on second and third for the second out and got a pop out to first to leave the bases loaded.
He settled down through the next two innings but faced his toughest challenge in the sixth. Don Collins reached on an error to start the inning and Michael Benjamin Jr. ripped a double down the left field line.
Collins ran through the stop sign at third and Alex Stanford made a perfect relay home to get him. Benjamin eventually scored on a wild pitch and Tyler Christian doubled but Hoverson ended his night as Ryan Dunn lined out to second, a thunk Denver Chavez turned into a double play.
Litchfield had to pitch out of his own difficulties as well. He allowed a one-out double and walk in the seventh before ending the inning with a pop out and ground out and then left runners on second and third in the eighth by inducing a pop out to short.
Lost in the inning might be the running catch that Mendenhall made over his shoulder in deep center for the first out. He picked up his first save of the summer with a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out the final batter.
Walla Walla scored the only runs they would need thanks to two hits and two Bend errors in the first. Chavez reached on an error to start the game and moved to third on a hit-and-run single from Stanford.
Andrew Mendenhall made it 1-0 with an RBI ground out and the Sweets would load the bases with one out as Zach Wentz was hit by a pitch and Austin Heaps singled.
Stewart followed with a ground ball to deep short that looked like one, but the throw back to first was wide, allowing two runs to score.
The Sweets threatened to extend the lead all night, but came up empty time and again. The first three batters of the third reached but did not result in a run.
After a 1-2-3 fourth, Walla Walla threatened again in the fifth. They loaded the bases with one out on an error, single and walk but Bend starter Steven Ostapeck induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to escape damage.
Walla Walla would load the bases two more times on the night and come up with nothing. They loaded them in the sixth on three walks but could not score and appeared primed for a knockout blow in the eighth but a 4-6-3 double play ended a bases loaded chance.
In all, the Sweets left 11 on base. Stanford picked up three hits, the only Sweet with multiple hits.
The victory also helps the Sweets gain ground in the playoff chase. Bellingham's 12-inning loss to Cowlitz puts the Sweets just one game behind the Bells for the final playoff spot in the East.
Walla Walla finishes their three-game series with Bend at 7:05 tonight. Ryan Richardson gets the ball for the Sweets in the rubber match.
Walla Walla 3, Bend 1
Elks 000 001 000 - 1 8 3
Sweets 300 000 00x - 3 6 1
Ostapeck, Chris (5), Wylie (8) and Tevlin; Hoverson, Litchfield (6) and Stewart.
Hits - Elks: Collins, Benjamin, Christian 2, Olson 2, Brower 2. Sweets: Stanford 3, Mendenhall, Heaps, Gottschling.