WALLA WALLA — Luke Reardon stepped up to the plate for Walla Walla High School’s baseball team with the game on the line Friday night.
The Blue Devils trailed Pendleton 2-1 with runners at first and second with two outs gone in the bottom of the sixth. Reardon, pinch hitting for pitcher Blake McKinney, hit a solid liner into the left-field corner to score both runners and lift the Blue Devils to a 3-2 opening-game victory over the visiting Buckaroos at the Murr Sports Complex.
It was, as Wa-Hi coach Keith Gradwohl said, a character check.
“We could’ve dropped our gobbers,” Gradwohl said. “We blew a 1-0 lead, 2-1, but we battled and Reardon comes in, pinch-hit doubles, scores two — that’s character.
“There’s nothing like winning,” Gradwohl said. “Doesn’t mean we’re any better or any worse, but winning’s fun. It just makes you feel good.”
The Blue Devils first got on the board in the third when David Pontarolo crossed home on a Daniel Lake fielder’s choice. Pontarolo got on base with a walk from Pendleton pitcher Chad McCoy, advanced to second on a passed ball and took third on a Daniel Camacho base hit.
Wa-Hi (1-1 after a 12-5 loss to Mount Si Saturday) went three-up, three-down in the fifth and Pendleton took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth.
Quentin Queampts led the sixth off with an infield single and Ian Rivera took first on a fielder’s choice. McCoy loaded the bases with a base knock and Bryan Branstetter took four balls from Wa-Hi reliever Blake McKinney to force Queampts home, Pendleton’s first run of the game.
The Buckaroos scored the go-ahead run when Rivera took home on a fielder’s choice to first base.
Pendleton had two outs gone, but with runners at second and third threatened to widen the gap. But McKinney, a sophomore in his first varsity appearance, ran down a TJ Hancock ground ball and made the pitch to first to end the inning.
After Wa-Hi’s two-run sixth, in which Julian Zamora and Trever Coronado each singled to set the stage for Reardon’s double, junior Zach Zehner came on to close the game out in the seventh.
Zehner, who was making his varsity debut, struck out the first batter he faced with three straight pitches before walking Alex O’Rourke, who eventually stole second.
Zehner fell behind 1-3 to Queampt before getting him to fly out to right for the second out of the inning and intentionally walked Grant Klopmeyer to give the Blue Devils a play at any base.
Rivera, who was 2-for-2 at the plate on the day at that point, ground out to first to end the game.
“You always ask me if we have a closer, well, that was (Zehner’s) role today,” Gradwohl said. “We hope he can start (Saturday), so I asked him, ‘If we take the lead, are you going to be able to close?’ And he said yeah. So he did the closer role today and that worked out.”
Wa-Hi starter Adam Mathews pitched a solid four innings, giving up three hits and a walk in his first start of the season before leaving the game with a 1-0 lead.
McKinney pitched a three-up, three-down fifth and gave up two hits and two walks in the sixth.
Coronado, a sophomore, also got his first start of his career in left field and reached base in every plate appearance with a single, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.
“(Coronado) had a beautiful diving catch in the first inning,” Gradwohl said. “Line drive to his right, diving catch to end the inning. And then he also had a base knock in that rally inning.”
The Blue Devils next host Lewiston for a doubleheader Thursday at 2 p.m.
WALLA WALLA 3, PENDLETON 2
Pendleton 000 002 0 — 2 2 0
Walla Walla 001 002 X — 3 5 1
McCoy, Klopmeyer (5) and O’Rourke; Mathews, McKinney (5), Zehner (7) and Fulmer.
HR — none.
Hits — Pendleton: Queampts, Rivera 2, McCoy, Hancock; Wa-Hi: Mathews, Camacho, Zamora, Coronado, Reardon.