WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla High School needed to at least split against last-place Pasco Friday to have a chance at the Mid-Columbia Conference No. 2 seed in the Class 4A playoffs and it did that — barely.
The Blue Devils squeaked out a 3-2 victory over Pasco in eight innings in the opener, and held a 5-3 lead after six innings of the nightcap before a five-run meltdown in the seventh handed Pasco its first league win of the year.
“You’ve got to give Pasco credit here,” Wa-Hi coach Keith Gradwohl said. “There’s a team that hasn’t won a league game and, shoot, they were playing hard. They played hard for both games — even after losing a tough game in game one, they played hard. And at times we just didn’t play smart.”
The split leaves Wa-Hi at 4-10 (6-13 overall) and tied for second in league with Chiawana, which was swept by Richland Friday.
Thanks to the “quality wins” tie breaker, however, the Blue Devils get the second seed and a first-round bye in the four-team MCC playoff. They face the winner of a Chiawana-Pasco matchup Saturday in Richland.
The winner of that game faces Richland for the league’s top seed into a four-team regional playoff with the Greater Spokane League immediately afterward. The loser of the game against Richland takes the MCC’s second seed.
Wa-Hi pitcher Adam Mathews had a solid outing in game one, scattering eight hits in eight innings. He struck out five batters, walked none, and gave up two earned runs.
Pasco starter Tony Beck went seven innings and struck out one while giving up two runs, three walks, three hit batsmen and seven hits, but the Blue Devils weren’t able to string enough hits together to avoid extra innings.
Daniel Camacho, who went 3-for-4 at the plate in the opener, singled in the first inning and came around to score Wa-Hi’s first run after stealing second and legging out a Zane Henderson single for the score.
Pasco evened the score in the next frame, as Nathan Kasselder led the inning off with a double to the left-field wall and scored on a Austen Clarke sac-fly to right.
The Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning.
After Mathews struckout the lead-off man, Pasco’s Roger Ingram reached first on a base hit and Trevor Schildt singled to put runners at first and third. After lineout for the second out of the inning, Luis Murillo singled to score Ingram, and Schildt was run down in a pickle on the same play to end the inning.
Mathews dominated from there, striking out three over the next three innings and allowing just one hit, which was erased with a 6-4-3 double play in the sixth.
Wa-Hi scored the tieing run in the sixth as Beck hit lead-off batter Luke Reardon for the second time in three innings to put him aboard. He was advanced to second by a Keltan Fulmer bunt, which Fulmer legged out for a base hit, and scored on a Mathews hit.
Neither team managed a run in the seventh and Wa-Hi got a walk-off error from Pasco’s shortstop, Ingram, in the eighth to win the win the game.
Ali Buentello, pinch hitting for shortstop Julian Zamora, singled to put the winning run aboard. He took third as Pasco reliever Ellery Raines walked Fulmer and Anthony Arellano grounded out to first.
Mathews walked to load the bases for Camacho, who hit what should have been an easy grounder to short for the final out of the inning, but Ingram’s glove betrayed him and Buentello came home for the win.
“That was good, that was awesome,” Gradwohl said of the play.
It looked as though Wa-Hi would walk away with an easy win in game two, as Pasco pitcher Kendall Lee walked the first three batters he saw and hit the fourth as the Blue Devils batted through their order in the first inning.
But the Blue Devils scored just three runs in that rally, and managed one more run off Lee in the third and another in the fourth before he was replaced after giving up seven free bases and three hits.
Wa-Hi starter Zach Zehner gave up five hits over the same span but walked no one and gave up no earned runs.
Pasco scored a run in the first on an error, and two more Wa-Hi errors in the fifth allowed two more runs to score, but by the top of the seventh Wa-Hi held a 6-3 advantage.
Then disaster struck.
Zehner, whose pitch count broached the triple-digit mark before the seventh, gave up four walks and two hits in the inning, and Wa-Hi committed two errors as the Bulldogs scored five runs to take a decisive 8-6 lead.
Wa-Hi had the tieing runs aboard in bottom of the inning with no outs after lead-off batter Zane Henderson reached on an error and Buentello walked, but two straight batters flew out to center and Henderson was caught stealing third to end the inning.
“It’s the same thing for us every time,” Gradwohl said. “In our losses it seems like we battle — the kids battled, we got kids at first and second with nobody out, down by two — and just couldn’t come up with a break.”
The second-game loss, with four Wa-Hi errors, left Gradwohl visibly frustrated.
“We just didn’t play very smart,” Gradwohl said. “They ran the bases hard and made us double pump (on throws). That happens in baseball, but they played harder than us, I thought. Which is disappointing, because that’s kind of our motto, is that we play hard.”
With the split, however, the Blue Devils earned a much-needed break for its injury-ravaged pitching rotation and won’t play again until Saturday.
“With the injuries we’ve had, we need some rest for these guys that pitched today,” Gradwohl said. “We need some rest.
“Let’s hope we bounce back,” Gradwohl said Friday with the seeding still up in the air. “We play Tuesday, we’ll play Tuesday. We don’t play until Saturday, we’ll play Saturday. We’ll show up and give it our best.”
Pasco 010 010 00 — 2 8 1
Wa-Hi 100 001 01 — 3 7 1
Beck, Raines (8) and Killoy. Mathews and Fulmer.
Hits — Pasco: Ingram 2, Schildt, Murillo, Kasselder, Beck, Clarke, Vasquez; Wa-Hi: Mathews, Camacho 3, Henderson, Buentello, Fulmer 2.
Pasco 100 020 5 — 8 10 2
Wa-Hi 301 101 0 — 6 5 4
Lee, Ingram (4) and Killoy. Zehner, Henderson (7) and Fulmer.
Hits — Pasco: Ingram, Scott 3, Kasselder, Murillo 2, Beck, Raines, Killoy; Wa-Hi: Mathews, Camacho, Henderson, Zehner, McKinney.