BEND, Ore. — The atmosphere at Vince Genna Stadium was filled with high hopes and higher stakes as the Walla Walla Sweets played the final regular season game against the Bend Elks here Sunday night.
At least the Sweets knew it was the final game for Bend.
A make-good game from an Aug. 1 rainout against Wenatchee today was in the balance unless a combination of a Sweets win and a Wenatchee loss took place. It would determine the top seed and pennant winner of the West Coast League North Division.
On the other side of the coin, the Elks needed one win against the Sweets to clinch a playoff spot in the WCL South. An Elks loss would eliminate Bend.
When the dust settled, the Sweets emerged as the champions of the West Coast League North with a wild 14-12 victory.
Wenatchee ended up losing to Kelowna, 8-3, to finish second.
Walla Walla (31-22) heads to Wenatchee (29-24) to face the AppleSox in Game 1 of the best-of-three division playoff series. The series heads to Borleske Stadium Wednesday, and if Game 3 is necessary it would be Thursday.
In the WCL South, Corvallis wrapped up the title with a 37-17 record. The Knights face the expansion Medford Rogues (30-24) in that division series.
On Sunday, with the Elks’ Martin Brown on the mound, bases loaded and one out in the top of the first inning, the Sweets scored first as Nick Vilter launched a sacrifice fly to center field, sending in Matt Mendenhall for an early 1-0 lead.
Little did anyone realize it would be the first of 26 runs that would cross home plate in the game.
With runners on second and third, Kris Paulino belted in Jarod Gonzales and Spencer O’Neil for the first of seven RBIs Paulino racked up for the night.
In the bottom of the second, with Walla Walla’s Drew Christina pitching and runners on first and second for the Elks, Kyle Giusti drove in Turner Gill for the Elks’ first run to make it 3-1.
In the top of the fourth, and Walla Walla’s Paulino crushed a 2-1 fastball from Brown over the right-field fences for a leadoff home run.
Sweets Jono Herkins and Luke Persico grounded out, and with two out, Zach Reay swung away at strike three. It should have ended the inning, but Elks catcher Tyler Servais dropped the pitch, which rolled halfway to the backstop, allowing Reay to reach first.
Mendenhall then singled, Gonzales walked and John Skrbec then jumped on an 0-2 pitch for a base-clearing double, and the Sweets were ahead 7-1.
With Phil DiLandro relieving Brown for the Elks, DiLandro walked O’Neil and Nick Vilter to load the bases. The Elks then pulled DeLandro and brought in Taylor Ellman. Paulino stepped in for the second time in the inning and smashed a double on an Ellman 3-2 pitch to once again clear the bases to make it 10-1.
In the bottom of the fifth and with the bases loaded, Christina walked Bend’s Seth Spivey, bringing in Servais for the Elks’ second run. Gill also walked, cutting the Sweets lead to 10-3.
Derek Dixon then singled to left bringing in two more, and Walla Walla went to Connor Lawhead in relief of Christina.
Lawhead enticed Cullen O’Dwyer to ground out to Skrbec at second to end the inning.
The action continued to the top of the sixth. With the Sweets leading 10-5, Gonzales sent the first pitch from Austin Guzzon into the fair side of the right field foul pole for a leadoff Sweets homer.
Then, with the bases loaded and the Elks’ Kevin Hamann pitching, Paulino drove in his seventh RBI on a sacrifice fly to right, sending in Skrbec.
Herkins then hit a sac fly of his own to center bringing in O’Neil, and Persico singled in Vilter, giving the Sweets a 14-5 lead.
The Elks staged a comeback in the bottom of the sixth, plating six runs to pull within 14-11.
The Elks tacked on one more run in the eighth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Walla Walla called in closer Sean-Luke Brija for the third consecutive night, as Renae Martinez took over catching duties.
Bend’s Giusti doubled , and up came the tying run in Grant Newton. On a 1-2 count, Newton looked at ball two, which dribbled behind Martinez. Giusti made a break for third, but Martinez recovered, firing to Gonzales at third to gun down the steal and erase the base paths.
Newton grounded out to second and Brija struck out Fields to end the game, along with the Elks’ hope for a playoff berth.
Sweets 14, Elks 12
Walla Walla 300 704 000 — 14 15 0
Bend 010 046 010 — 12 14 2
Christina, Lawhead (5), Houser (6), Dillman (8), Brija (9) and Reay, Martinez. Brown, DiLandro (4), Elman (4), Hamann (5), Guzzon (6), Murillo (7) and Servais.
HRs — WW: Gonzales, Skrbec, Vilter.
Hits — WW: Mendenhall 2, Gonzales 2, Skrbec, O’Neil 3, Vilter, Paulino 3, Persico 2, Wylie; Bend: Fields 2, Close, Spivey 2, Gill, Dixon 2, Servais, Giusti 4, Newton.