WALLA WALLA — Spurred on by a four-run rally in the bottom of the third inning, Walla Walla Sweets’ manager J.C. Biagi mixed and matched his pitching rotation for nine frames to pull out a 4-3 win over the Medford Rogues here Friday night at Borleske Stadium.
Trailing 2-0 in the third, the Sweets saw Rogues starter Jake Lessel unwind, throwing 12 balls in 14 pitches to open the half-inning.
“We saw (Jake) Lessel in Medford and he took an early exit,” Biagi said. “He has had some control problems throughout the year and he certainly did (when the Sweets faced him) at Medford.
“So we knew at some point he was going to start leaving the zone,” Biagi said. “Fortunately, for us he did after throwing well the first two innings. He started leaving the zone and we were patient enough to take pitches and that gave us the opportunity to score.”
Lessel walked the bases loaded before getting the first out of the inning — a Matt Mendenhall strikeout — and pushed across the first run of the rally after beaning shortstop Nick Vilter in the leg.
Medford manager Josh Hogan had seen enough of Lessler at that point, pulling him in favor of Dillon Keene.
Designated hitter Renae Martinez got retribution for his hit teammate with a 2-RBI double down the third base line and Vilter scored what turned into the final Sweets run of the game on, of all things, a wild pitch.
Medford scored the first two runs of the game on a walk to Matt Page, a single for Ryan Teel and a sacrifice bunt by Quentin Urban to advance the runners.
Jake Whisler single in Page and Ray McIntire knocked in Teel with a base hit.
Biagi made his first call to the bullpen for the arm of Danny Zandona in the fourth.
Zandona rewarded the skipper by striking out the Rogues side, but he ran into trouble in the fifth, giving up an unearned run on a Rogues walk, a Sweets error and two base hits by Page and Teel.
He escaped the inning with the bases loaded, however, using a 4-3 groundout to end the fifth and preserve the 4-3 lead. Zandona got righty batter Parker Miles to fly out in the top of the sixth before being pulled in favor of lefty Drew Christina, with the lefty-heavy portion of the Rogues lineup due to come to the plate.
Christina, a Wa-Hi and Walla Walla Community College alum, did good work, retiring all five batters he faced while striking out two.
Connor Dillman relieved Christina with one out in the in the eighth. Dillman induced a 4-3 groundout and flyout to center to end that inning.
“We had a couple matchups to work with,” Biagi said. “They had some lefties that could hit. We brought in Christina, Zandona had his first outing, Leckenby got his feet wet — it was good to see those guys in a close game pitch well.
“Overall, it was a fairly good performance all around on the mound.”
On came Sean-Luke Brija in the ninth to finish the game out in a familiar closer role. Brija retired the Rogues in order with a grounder to first, flyout to right and a strikeout looking.
“He certainly has the mentality to close,” Biagi said of Brija. “He gets after the hitters in the zone and with the low 90s fastball. It is tough to hit and see it at the end of the game. Certainly he has done his job in that closer role the last several games.
Yeah we’ll just see who fills each role,” Biagi hedged, however. “I’m not ready to label him the closer.”
Brija has made his case for the closer role so far, though.
He has a 0.00 era with a league-leading five saves and 10 strikeouts in six innings while only giving up three hits.
And Walla Walla seems to have the top of the batting order figured out as well, as leadoff man Kramer Lindell was 2-for-3 Friday with a walk to raise his batting average to .378. No. 2-man Jon Skrbec had one hit on the evening and is batting .340 through 13 games.
The Sweets (8-5) played again Saturday night in game two versus the Rogues and will finish up the three-game series tonight at 5 p.m.
Walla Walla 4, Medford 3
Medford 020 010 000 — 3 7 0
Walla Walla 004 000 000 — 4 7 1
Lessel, Keene (3), Hockin (8) and Teel. Leckenby, Zandona (4), Christina (6), Dillman (7), Brija (9) and Reay.
Hits — Med: McNabb, Page, Teel 2, Whisler, McIntire 2. WW: Lindell 2, Skrbec, Martinez, Gonzales, Persico, Silva.