WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla Sweets West Coast League collegiate baseball is back and the second season kicks off at 7:05 p.m. today when the Sweets host the Corvallis Knights at Borleske Stadium.
Opening Night begins a three-game weekend series between the Sweets and Knights that includes Saturday's 7:05 p.m. start and concludes with a 6:05 p.m. start on Sunday.
The teams met five times last year and the Knights won the season-series, 3-2. Walla Walla and Corvallis split a two-game series at Borleske Stadium in early July and the Knights won two-of-three to end the season in Corvallis.
Corvallis, a West Coast League powerhouse, has won four straight West Division titles and is expected to compete for a fifth straight in 2011.
The Knights are led by a core of nine returnees, including Hawaii's Michael Blake. The outfielder/pitcher finished third in the West Coast League in batting average (.344) last summer and finished with six doubles, 19 RBI and 19 runs.
Two first-year Knights and Feather River College teammates, Jaret Bogue and Dayton Alexander, should provide some pop as well. Bogue was named the Golden Valley Conference Player of the Year after hitting .437 with 21 doubles and 49 RBI. Alexander hit .382 with 16 doubles, two triples, four home runs and scored 49 runs.
Walla Walla also features a duo that is primed to anchor the middle of the order. Utah Valley teammates Austin Heaps and Goose Kallunki come to Walla Walla after having very successful seasons and helping the Wolverines capture the Great West Conference championship.
Mainly batting Nos. 4-5 in the order, Heaps collected 25 doubles to go along with a .339 average and Kallunki knocked in a team and conference-high 60 runs. The Sweets will also welcome the addition of Walla Walla Community College standout Chance Kopacz. As a sophomore this spring, Kopacz led the NWAACC in doubles (21) and RBI (54). He also added eight home runs and gives the Sweets options by being both an outfielder and an infielder.
Both teams enter tonight's opener shorthanded as they await the arrival of players that are finishing their college seasons or their college academic semesters. The Knights will make their way east with only 20 players, while the Sweets will be without the services of 10 players.
Today's pitching matchup will feature Ryan Richardson (Campbellsville) for the Sweets against Brian Ranta (George Fox) of the Knights.
Richardson returns to the Sweets after going 1-3 with a save last summer. The right-hander worked 63 2/3 innings, good enough for third in the West Coast League.
Ranta is coming off a strong season for the Bruins, earning Northwest Conference first team all-conference honors. He went 8-2 with a 2.40 ERA in 93.2 innings, struck out 68 and walked only 10.
Saturday pits Walla Walla's Brett Watson (WWCC) against Corvallis' Max Beatty (Pacific Lutheran), and on Sunday Trent Allianic (Hawaii) will face Chris Johnson (Portland).
Out to the Ballgame
Tickets can be purchased at the Sweets Shoppe at 109 East Main St. in downtown Walla Walla, by calling 509-522-BALL (2255) or at the Sweets box office at Borleske Stadium.
All 60 Sweets games this summer can also be heard on the radio at 1490 ESPN Walla Walla or online at wallawallasweets.com.