WALLA WALLA — It took Walla Walla an extra inning here Saturday night to break their four-game West Coast League slide, but thanks to the pitching of Connor Lawhead and Sean-Luke Brija, the Sweets squeezed in a run in the bottom of the 10th to edge Victoria, 1-0.
“We’ve struggled as of late,” Sweets manager J.C. Biagi said. “It was an incredibly well pitched ballgame. You had to fight tooth and nail for every opportunity you get.”
With Victoria’s 6-foot-5, 220-pound left-hander Bryan Conant blanking the Sweets on six hits and 10 strikeouts through nine innings, the HarbourCats and Sweets went to the 10th in a scoreless tie.
Brija, who relieved Lawhead to open the ninth, pitched around an error and induced a double play started by Sweets third baseman John Skrbec’s stab of a sharp ground ball, to keep it scoreless going to the Sweets 10th.
Dominic Miroglio led off with a looping single to right. Beau Bozett came off the bench to run for Miroglio. Jono Herkins faked a bunt and Bozett stole second.
“We had sacrifice bunt on and Beau is a good runner,” Biagi said. “He’s a guy that has green light. He chose in that moment, when we had the bunt on, to go. It was not a great ball to throw on and the catcher had to throw from his knees and Beau raced into second pretty clean.”
“I was getting ready all game as I knew at some point I would go in to pinch run,” Bozett said. “I thought it was a hit and run and I stole that one (second).”
With Bozett — the winning run — at second, Herkins put a bunt down and the Cats’ pitcher Scott Kuzminski who relieved Conant to open the 10th, went to third to get Bozett, but Bozett’s head first dive beat the throw.
“Jono had a great sac bunt,” Bozett said. “It was a great bunt so it was pretty easy for me to get there.”
“Jono laid down what was intended to be a drag bunt,” Biagi said. “The third baseman has to hold back and the pitcher is the only guy on that side of the infield. (The bunt) stayed in the circle and Beau used his speed to scoot into third.”
Scott Silva came to the plate with no outs and runners at first and third. Herkins stole second, and Biagi put the suicide squeeze on.
Silva got the bunt down and Bozett scored the game-winner without a throw.
“Coach said ‘squeeze is a great option here and you’re going to get one swing at this,’” Silva said. “I took the first pitch for a strike. He gave me the squeeze sign. I said ‘do not pop this ball up and get it down and we win this game.’ That’s what I did. It was awesome. To come back and get this win tonight is a lot of momentum and we’re going to keep it going from here.”
Bozett, Silva’s teammate at Gonzaga, was off and running on the pitch and scored easily.
“You just walk off (third base),” Bozett said. “Once the pitcher has his foot down, you start getting into your sprint. It was great team play there.”
“The squeeze at that point was a no-brainer,” Biagi said. “You’ve got a guy (Silva) that can handle the bat. You’ve got a guy at third (Bozett) that can run, and guy on second (Herkins) as insurance in case you don’t get in. That doesn’t take away from getting the bunt down and having good base running. It was good.”
But it was the WWCC product Lawhead that got it going the Sweets’ way. Lawhead went eight innings, threw 120 pitches, struck out 12, walked one, and allowed four hits and left the game in Brija’s hands with the score 0-0.
“I tried to attack the zone and work a quick tempo and get us a win,” Lawhead said. “We were on a little skid and the starting pitcher is the one that can break the losing skid. I felt good tonight. I tried to hit my spots and mix it up.”
Victoria only got two runners as far as second off Lawhead. The Sweets defense forced Austin Russell at third in the fifth, and Lawhead stranded the HarbourCats at second in the seventh.
“Credit to that guy (Lawhead),” Biagi said. “It was a spot start as he hasn’t been in the rotation all year. He was really amazing. That’s the best I’ve seen him throw in the three years I’ve been around him. He had his off speed stuff working and his fast ball on both sides of the plate was very effective.”
The Sweets improve to 24-22, and with Bellingham’s 2-1 loss to Bend, move back into the second playoff spot by one-half game with seven games left, plus a makeup with Wenatchee if needed.
Victoria and Walla Walla conclude their season series tonight at 5 p.m.
Walla Walla 1, Victoria 0
Victoria 000 000 000 0 — 0 5 0
Sweets 000 000 000 1 — 1 7 3
Conant, Kuzminsky (10) and Real; Lawhead, Brija (9) and Martinez.
Hits — Victoria: Smith, Russell, DeGoti, Real, Schuknecht; WW: Miroglio 2, Herkins 2, Vilter, Silva, Paulino.