WALLA WALLA — On Date Night here Monday in West Coast League baseball action,
Walla Walla’s Chris Lovejoy flirted with a no-hitter, as the lanky 6-foot-6 Ball State southpaw blanked Kelowna on no hits through seven innings.
Kelowna rallied, but Sean-Luke Brija came on in relief in the ninth to save the 3-2 Walla Walla win, and improve the Sweets to 26-22.
“Lovejoy, holy cow!” Sweets manager J.C. Biagi said. “I don’t know that we could ask for much more.”
The Sweets were coming off two consecutive extra-inning wins — 1-0 and 4-3 over Victoria — and made it three wins in a row Monday.
“The last three days it (the pitching) has been really good,” Biagi said. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to piece it together offensively to get just enough. Pitchers have taken the ship and started driving it.”
Renae Martinez slapped a two-out double in the Sweets third. Jake Wylie followed with an RBI single for a 1-0 Walla Walla lead.
“I was thinking about driving the ball up the middle to score the runner,” Wylie said. “It felt pretty good.”
Wylie was at it again in the home sixth. With one out, Wylie crushed a pitch over the left-field fence and took a 2-0 lead over the Falcons.
“I knew he (Falcon pitcher Jason Mouton) would come after me with a slider,” the Linfield College product said. “I sat on it and he threw me one.”
A Jarrod Gonzales single, a Jono Herkins double, plus a Falcon throwing error got another Sweets run home in the seventh for a 3-0 lead.
But through seven, this one belonged to Lovejoy. The Falcons only had three base runners — two walks and an error — and one was erased in a double play.
Lovejoy, who celebrated his 21st birthday with the masterful performance, forced 10 groundouts and six flyouts through his seven hitless innings.
“He did a great job tonight,” right fielder Wylie said. “The team picked him up all night making great plays. It was great to see him get a win like that.”
“I felt like I was hitting my spots real well,” Lovejoy said. “I tried to keep the ball in play and get some outs the easy way.”
The no-hitter went away with Lovejoy’s first pitch of the eighth inning. Kelowna’s Cody Andreychuk lined a clean single into left.
Lovejoy pitched out of the jam to preserve the shutout and send the Sweets to the ninth up 3-0.
“It was a little disappointing,” Lovejoy said of Andreychuk’s single. “Ultimately, I’m here for a team win. Brija coming in to close the door and getting the win was great.”
The Falcons put together a Nolan Johnson double, a Grayson Porter single and an RBI ground ball to break up the shutout in the ninth.
With one out, Lovejoy hit Reed Lavellee, and Biagi summoned Brija from the pen.
“He (Lovejoy) gave up the hit, he gave up the run, hit the batter, and balls were starting to come off a little different,” Biagi said. “We just felt it was time (to make a change).”
Enter Brija for his third consecutive appearance.
“I love it, and my arm bounces back pretty well,” Brija said. “It’s fun and I want to be out there all the time.”
Brija struck out the first batter he faced, but Scotland Church singled to plate the Falcons’ second run and move the tying run to second.
Brija struck out Jeffrey Bohling to save the 3-2 win.
“I trust my stuff and I have an incredible defense behind me,” Brija said. “Chris (Lovejoy) pitched an unreal game and I was happy that I could help him out on his 21st birthday. (The last hitter) we started with fastball, fastball, and then the last pitch we called a slider and I shook, but the pitch came from the dugout and I went back to it.”
With five games (maybe six if a Wenatchee makeup game is needed) left, the Sweets enjoy a three-game advantage in the loss column over idle Bellingham for a postseason spot.
“We’re rolling at the right time,” Brija said. “Morale is pretty high right now.”
The Sweets host Kelowna tonight at 7 p.m.
Walla Walla 3, Kelowna 2
Kelowna 000 000 002 — 2 6 3
Sweets 001 001 00x — 3 5 1
Mouton, Dunnington (8) and Johnson; Lovejoy, Brija (9) and Martinez.
HR — WW: Wylie.
Hits — Kel: Andreychuk, Bohling, Robertson, Johnson, Porter, Church; WW: Martinez, Wylie 2, Gonzales, Herkins.