WALLA WALLA - Long after the last pitch was thrown in the West Coast League All-Star Game Tuesday night at Borleske Stadium, Walla Walla fans were on their feet and cheering.
They were cheering the finale of a postgame fireworks show, but the fact that they were there at all (a significant chunk of the 2,006 fans officially attending the game) was a great show of support for the WCL, especially considering the 2-8 rough patch the home team, the Walla Walla Sweets, has hit as the season end approaches.
"Everybody's impressed with the fans here," WCL President Ken Wilson said as fans ohh'd and ahhh'd at the fireworks. "The fans have been very supportive of the Sweets and it was really a nice opportunity for the league to put on the All-Star Game here because it was a nice turnout. I think Walla Walla deserved to have the event and they did a great job with it."
On the field, the West All-Stars came out on top in a narrow, 3-2 victory, but pitchers on both sides were the real winners of the day, with the West pitching staff striking out 12 and the East seven.
Walla Walla's Hunter Virant pitched in the seventh inning and didn't have a great outing, giving up two hits to four batters, but the scouts in attendance liked what they saw, honoring Virant with the top prospect award after the game.
"Projection," said Milwaukee Brewers scout Shawn Whalen of why he thought Virant was so good. "Long lean, loose easy arm. For me he's kind of a young Cliff Lee. Good looking kid."
Virant, a UCLA commit and an 11th-round draft pick as a senior out of Camarillo, Calif., is 2-2 with a 3.0 ERA over 27 innings pitched.
"He threw well," Sweets General Manager Zachary Fraser said. "He had a couple of tough breaks defensively while he was pitching, but Scouts know what to look for and obviously they saw some stuff that was impressive."
On offense, the West outhit the East 10-6, with Josh Wong and Connor Hofman leading the way with three hits each.
Hofman was named the All-Star Game MVP after his performance, as he went 3-for-4 at the plate and scored the tying run on an RBI groundout by Austin Diemer.
Third baseman Shane Zeile was the only Walla Walla position player in the All-Star Game after replacing Sweets player Spencer O'Neil, who suffered an injury earlier in the week and was unable to play.
Zeile currently leads the Sweets with a .317 batting average, but only managed one base hit Tuesday night as he struck out three times.
"Rough night at the plate, but you know we all have those," Zeile said after the game. "It just happened to fall on the night of the All-Star Game. I'll come back tomorrow and play another game here and it will be all good."
Zeile had an opportunity to play the hometown hero with two outs and runners at first and second in the bottom of the eighth, with the East down 3-2, but went down swinging with three-straight strikes.
It was apparent he was frustrated, despite it being an All-Star Game.
"I was really hoping for it (another hit)," Zeile said, "but we all have hat tricks."
Walla Walla's Arturo Reyes made an appearance in the fourth inning with a solid outing. Reyes struck out the first batter he faced, Caleb Whalen of Corvallis, after Whalen sent his first pitch sailing just foul over the left-field fence. Reyes went on to give up two more hits before getting consecutive groundouts to end the inning.
Reyes said it was a pretty special feeling to get the K, "especially after that first pitch where he sent the ball pretty far, but luckily it was foul.
"I didn't let that get into my head and I just went one pitch at a time," he continued. "I knew I had a great defense behind me, that's why they're here, so I just went after them and it worked out."
The 2,006 fans in attendance for Tuesday's exhibition were almost 800 more than the Sweets' season average attendance, and just shy of 1,000 more than the league average. The fans were, at times, rowdy, but always engaged.
"The scouts kept saying, ‘Wow we have hecklers at an all-star game,' and they said it in an appreciative tone," Fraser said. "We've developed a baseball community here and that's something the fans can be proud of."
Sweets fans also made their presence known, cheering loudly whenever a Walla Walla player took to the plate or the mound.
"Especially being here at home and having the home crowd, you could totally tell, as soon as you heard them announce our name, the home crowd would just get a lot louder than some of these other guys," Reyes said of the crowd.
The Sweets face East-leading Wenatchee in a four-game, home-and-home series with Wenatchee beginning at Borleske today at 7:05 p.m.
Walla Walla (16-24) is 8 1/2 games out of playoff contention and is coming off a 3-1 victory over Klamath Falls Sunday.
"Just take it one game at a time," said Reyes of the remainder of the Sweets season. "We just want to finish our summer off strong. We'd like to make playoffs and everything, but most important is just having fun and staying together and finishing the season off strong."
West 3, East 2
West 000 020 100 - 3 10 2
East 000 200 000 - 2 6 1
Perez, Dittirck (2), Gillies (3), Irvin (4), Bunda (5), Radke (5), Murray (6), Williams (6), Barker (7), Feldtman (8), and Barr; Marris, Callahan (2), Carma (3), Reyes (4), Cockrell (5), Hartnett (6), Maton (7), Virant (7), Olson (8), Kane, (9) and Causey, McClanahan (5).
HR - none.
Hits - West: Diemer, Whalen, Wong 3, Byler, Nielsen, Hofman 3; East: Gunsolus, Friesen, Causey, Zeile, Conrad, Moore.