BEND, Ore. – When the Walla Walla Sweets win, a couple of things usually happen: strong starting pitching, timely two-out hitting, and consistent bullpen performance capped by a Sean-Luke Brija close.
That model was followed to perfection Friday night, as the Sweets knocked off the Bend Elks 6-3 in the first game of the three-game set to finish the regular season.
After going in order in the first inning, the Sweets offense got started in the second stanza with Jarod Gonzales, who laced a line drive over the head of Elks outfielder Turner Gill in right field. Gill, fully extended and off the ground, had the ball glance off his glove and land at the wall as Gonzales arrived at second base.
Ruled an error, it nonetheless got the bats started.
Dominic Miroglio drove in the first of his two RBI swith a sharp single to right, scoring Gonzales and giving the Sweets a 1-0 lead.
Kris Paulino followed with an infield single, and with Miroglio at third, Paulino attempted to steal second. The throw went to the bag, Miroglio broke home and was thrown out at the plate.
With two outs, designated hitter Spencer O’Neil ripped a double down the right field line to score Paulino.
After Bend went quietly in the bottom of the second, the Sweets picked up three more runs in the top of the third. Matt Mendenhall ripped a single to lead off, and Jake Wylie followed with a single of his own.
After a Gonzales hit-by-pitch, Miroglio picked up his second RBI of the night with a bases-loaded single. Paulino followed with another single, plating two runs, and the Sweets opened up a commanding 5-0 lead.
With the early run support, Walla Walla starter Cody Poteet held Bend to just one hit through the first five frames. He averaged a little over 10 pitches per inning through seven complete innings, striking out one, walking none, and left with the Sweets firmly in control and a 5-2 lead.
The UCLA righty’s only trouble came in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Bend touched up Poteet for two runs on four hits and a hit batsman, but was Poteet able to pitch out of it, shutting the door again in the seventh before turning the ball over to Connor Lawhead in the eighth.
The Sweets tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth, which was important, as Bend mustered a rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring a run and bringing the tying run to the plate with two on and two out.
Closer Brija then closed the door on the Elks for good, striking out Zach Close to end the threat and the game.
With the win, and the Wenatchee Applesox’s 7-5 loss in Kelowna, the Sweets took over sole possession of first place in the WCL North headed into Saturday evening’s second game of the series.
Walla Walla secured a playoff berth Thursday with Bellingham’s loss to Victoria, but the best-of-three series in the North isn’t yet determined as Wenatchee and Bellingham battle for the second spot.
The Sweets are guaranteed at least one home game, on either Tuesday or Wednesday, at 7:05 p.m. at Borleske Stadium.
Sweets 6, Elks 3
Walla Walla 023 000 001 — 6 12 1
Bend 000 002 001 — 3 10 1
Poteet, Lawhead (8), Silva (8), Brija (9) and Miroglio. Gartner, Guzzon (6), Murillo (9) and Servais.
Hits — WW: Mendenhall 2, Wylie 2, Gonzales, Skrbec, Miroglio 2, Paulino 2, O’Neil, Bozett; Bend: Fields, Newton 2, Gill, Dixon 3, O’Dwyer, Giusti, Close.