WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla and Hanford traded complete-game shutouts Thursday afternoon at Murr Field.
The Junior Flames, an American Legion Class A team, handed the Cubs 16U squad a 1-0 loss in the opener behind the seven-inning three-hitter from pitcher Brian Sands.
And in the nightcap, Cubs ace Lowden Smith scattered four hits while fanning nine batters en route to a 3-0 victory.
“Lowden is our No. 1 and he came in and shut the door down,” Cubs coach Kevin McNeil said. “He’s been struggling a little bit in the beginning of the year, but he came out pitching really well and dominated a team he should have. It was good to see.”
Hitting was scarce for both teams in the twin bill, as the Flames (6-10) and Cubs (5-7) combined for just 12 hits on the day.
“We didn’t hit,” McNeil said. “If we had hit the ball in the first game, we would have won it. We didn’t get clutch hitting, and that pitcher (Sands) was pretty good.
“He had a good curve ball and he changed speeds,” he said. “He was pitching low in the zone and he did a really good job and we didn’t adjust. We were trying to kill everything.”
Walla Walla’s starter in the first game, Chance Leroue, threw four innings of no-hit ball, but couldn’t nail down the strike zone, issuing six free bases on four walks and two hit batters.
Leroue struck out the first batter he faced, but Hanford’s Dustin Durflinger worked a full-count walk in the next at bat and advanced to third on wild pitches. Leroue walked the next batter, Tucker Anderson, and Durflinger scored the lone run of the game on a passed ball.
Leroue struck out the next two batters to end the inning, but he used 28 pitches in the first inning alone and the damage was done. Kris Arellano replaced Leroue in the fifth as Leroue’s pitch count breached the 70s.
“In the first game we had Chance and he struggled a little bit,” McNeil said. “We were trying to get him in rhythm for the rest of the year. He’s been at football camp and some other stuff, so it was nice to see him battle through that and give us four innings.”
Offensively, Walla Walla didn’t get a baserunner in the first game until the fourth inning, when Sands missed inside and pegged Smith to send him to first with two outs gone.
Smith stole second and took third when catcher Durflinger’s throw dribbled into the outfield, but Leroue grounded out to second to end the inning.
Walla Walla had another chance to break up the shutout in the sixth as Smith stepped to the plate with two outs after Kris Arellano and Talen Larsen each singled to put runners at the corners.
He slammed a ball into center field that looked like an extra-base hit, but was gobbled up in the vast expanse of the Murr outfield.
“We should have got that first game, but that’s baseball,” McNeil said. “There were a couple balls that we hit hard here, but the ball just doesn’t carry well here at Murr.”
Hanford threatened to score in the away first of the nightcap with runners at the corners, but second baseman Ian Ross grounded out to end the inning and Walla Walla got its first run of the day in the home half.
Larsen worked a one-out walk in the home first and stole second before Leroue dropped a double into the left-center gap to send him home.
Larsen scored again in the third after hitting a bloop single into shallow center and stealing third. He scored on a Smith groundout to short.
“He was very aggressive on the basepaths,” McNeil said of Larsen. “He was really reading the ball. We’ve been trying to get on these kids the past couple of years to see the projection of the ball going down into the dirt and take the extra base. He did a great job of that — he recognized the ball in the dirt right off the bat and was taking extra bases when he can.”
Walla Walla tacked on an insurance run in the sixth. Smith knocked in his second run of the day with an RBI single past shortstop to score Christian Warner, who had reached on a walk.
On the mound Smith was efficient, issuing no walks and facing the minimum in four different innings. He didn’t allow a baserunner after the fourth inning.
Hanford starting pitcher Grant Cowen walked four and struck out two in the nightcap. He pitched all seven innings.
Walla Walla next visits Moses Lake to take on the Sun Devils in a doubleheader Sunday at 3 p.m.
Flames 100 000 0 — 1 1 0
Cubs 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Sands and Durflinger. Leroue, Arellano (5) and Spencer.
Hits — Flames: Anderson; Cubs: Larsen, Heytvelt, Arellano.
Flames 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
Cubs 101 010 X — 3 4 0
Cowan and Young. Smith and Heytvelt.
Hits — Flames: Anderson, Smith, Sfalock, Duberstein; Cubs: Larsen, Smith, Leroue, Hano.