Walla Walla Kelowna’s Tyler Qualls drove a ninth-inning blast off the right-field foul pole for a two-run home run to wipe out a one-run deficit and propel the Falcons to a 5-4 victory here Thursday night over Walla Walla in West Coast League baseball action.
Walla Walla had been blanked 3-0 by Falcon starting pitcher Cord Cockrell going to the home seventh.
Marc Garza legged out an infield hit to start the Sweets in the seventh. Jarrod Turner walked and Ben Ruff followed with a double to score Garza and push Turner to third. Cole Coshow came on to relieve Cockrell, and faced Kris Paulino with no outs and the tying run at second.
The left-swinging Paulino drove Coshow’s first pitch over the right-center field fence for a three-run bomb and a 4-3 Walla Walla lead.
“We had some good ABs (at-bats) in the seventh,” Sweets manager J.C. Biagi said. “A guy comes in the game and Paulino jumps on it (the first pitch) and his one big swing puts us up.”
The Sweets grabbed the lead in the home seventh because of their defense in the top of the inning.
With one run in and Kyle Pearson at first with two outs, Greg Friesen doubled into the right-field corner. Spencer O’Neil dug it out and fired to second baseman Kalani Brackenridge, who fired home and catcher Jarrod Turner put the tag on a sliding Pearson to keep the Falcon lead at 3-0.
The Sweets defense rose to the occasion in the Falcon eighth. With two on, one out and a 4-3 lead, Brock Slavin bounced into a Brackenridge-to-shortstop Shane Zeile-to first baseman Garza (6-4-3) inning-ending double play to preserve the Walla Walla 4-3 lead.
“We’ve been that way all year,” Biagi said. “We’ve played very well defensively. We’ve got good guys.”
Sweets starting pitcher Hunter Virant struck out the side to open the game, but ran into control issues in the second innings. Virant, a lanky UCLA southpaw, walked two and gave up an RBI single to Kelowna’s Preston Gray. Virant did not allow another run as he went five innings, struck out six, but walked four.
“He (Virant) has the stuff to miss a lot of bats, but you’ve got to get the ball over the plate,” Biagi said. “It’s really telling what he’s capable of in getting through five innings and giving up the one run despite those control issues. He’s a special kid and he’s going to have a great career wherever the game takes him.”
The Sweets failed to score in the home eighth and Ruff came on in relief to try and nail down the win in the ninth. After striking out Pat Johnson to open the Falcon ninth, Kyle Moses legged out an infield hit to set the stage for Qualls.
Walla Walla went in order in the bottom of the ninth and Kelowna improved to 27-23 with the win.
“We didn’t get it done in the end,” Biagi said. “Ben (Ruff) has been great all summer. He’s a bulldog and a competitor. We would throw him out there again. It just didn’t turn out (tonight).”
The loss eliminates the Sweets from the postseason race and drops them to 20-27 on the season.
“The summer thing is fun,” Biagi said. “You get to see guys develop right in front of your eyes. These guys come out, despite what’s going on record-wise, and battle every day. You wish the record was more reflective of the effort the guys have put in.”
Walla Walla and Kelowna play game two of the four-game series tonight at 7 p.m.
Falcons 5, Sweets 4
Falcons 010 001 102 — 5 11 1
Sweets 000 000 400 — 4 10 0
Cockrell, Coshow (7), Cagle (8) and McClanahan; Virant, West (6), Lawhead (8), Ruff (9) and Turner.
HR — Kel: Qualls; WW: Paulino.
Hits — Kel: Gray, Moses 2, Alexander 2, McClanahan, Qualls 2, Pearson, Friesen 2; WW: Jacobs 2, Zeile 2, Garza 2, Paulino 2, Turner, Ruff.