WALLA WALLA — The season isn’t won or lost in a doubleheader, and that was Walla Walla High School coach Keith Gradwohl’s message Tuesday after the Blue Devils dropped a pair of Mid-Columbia Conference games to Richland at the Murr Sports Complex.
“We’re going to get better...” said Gradwohl after his team fell 8-4 and 10-4 to the Bombers. “I still like our kids, nothing’s changed — we didn’t lose the state championship, nor did we win it. That’s what we’re taking the season like — get hot at the end. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Logan Reardon started for the Blue Devils in game one, pitching 4 2/3 innings before being relieved in the fifth.
Reardon had a solid outing, giving up one hit in four innings and striking out five before stalling out in the three-run fifth inning.
Wa-Hi didn’t do him any favors on defense over that stretch, however, as the Bombers scored runs in the first and fourth innings to take a 2-2 tie into the decisive fifth.
Mason Hilty reached base in the first on a fielding error and stole third before coming home on a single by Gibson McGeorge, who finished with four RBI on three hits.
Wa-Hi answered with two runs in the third to take a 2-1 lead, its only lead of the day. David Pontarolo walked to lead off the inning followed by a hit batter and a Daniel Camacho base hit to load the plates.
Daniel Lake hit into a 1-3 fielder’s choice to score Pontarolo and Zane Henderson singled to shallow right to score Adam Mathews.
With two outs gone but the bases loaded, Wa-Hi was in position to add to its total, but Richland second baseman Nate Ruane made a spectacular diving catch and throw — one of several on the day — on a Blake McKinney grounder up the middle for the final out of the inning.
Things fell apart for the Blue Devils in the fifth.
Jalen Fields led off with a walk followed by a sacrifice bunt and two more walks to load the bases. Fields scored on a Mason Hilty lineout to center and Gibson McGeorge singled up the middle to drive in the remaining runners, give Richland a 5-2 lead, and bring out Wa-Hi’s Zach Zehner to close out the inning.
Richland went three-up, three-down in the away sixth and the Blue Devils closed the gap to one with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth, but Richland scored three more runs in the top of the seventh on a hit batter, two singles and a triple to close out the win.
“The lead-off walks were killing us,” Gradwohl said. “Then you get the inopportune errors. But it’s not like we’re not trying. Kids don’t try to walk people.”
Richland jumped on Wa-Hi early in the nightcap and Wa-Hi never caught its breath.
The Bombers led off the game with two straight singles followed by a walk and a throwing error at second to allow two runs to score. Richland tacked on three more runs in the second as Wa-Hi starter Daniel Lake struggled to find the strike zone.
The Blue Devils looked as though they were headed for a mercy-rule loss after Richland built a 10-0 lead with five more runs on four free bases and three hits, including back-to-back triples, in the fourth.
But Wa-Hi scored a run in the bottom of the inning to avoid the shutout and early end. Lead-off batter Henderson took advantage of an error at second to reach base, took second on a Logan Reardon base hit past short, and scored on an error.
Sophomore Trevor Coronado came on in relief in the fourth for Wa-Hi and stabilized the Blue Devils, holding Richland scoreless over three and 2/3rds innings.
Meanwhile, Wa-Hi almost snuck back into the game with two runs in the sixth and a run in the seventh, but Richland managed to strand two runners in the sixth and three in the seventh to avoid a serious Wa-Hi comeback attempt.
“Trevor Coronado had a great outing,” Gradwohl said. “I told him and Blake (McKinney, another sophomore who pitched in the fourth), ‘Hey, just get some experience out here.’
“So I think the main thing is that we just need to believe we belong,” Gradwohl said. “I think we do.”
The Blue Devils (2-4, 0-2 MCC) host Chiawana for another MCC Class 4A doubleheader Friday at 2 p.m.
Richland 100 130 3 — 8 5 0
Wa-Hi 002 002 0 — 4 8 3
Broeske, Miller (6) and Doyle. Reardon, Zehner (5), Mathews (7) and Fulmer.
Hits — Richland: Ruane, Hilty, McGeorge 3. Walla Walla: Mathews, Camacho, Lake 2, Henderson, Reardon, Coronado, Pontarolo.
Richland 230 500 0 — 10 12 2
Wa-Hi 000 102 1 — 4 7 2
Hilty, Ruane (6), Hardy (7), McGeorge (7) and Doyle. Lake, McKinney (4), Coronado (4) and Watilo.
Hits — Richland: Ruane 2, March 2, Hilty, Shaw, Liikala 2, Chambers 2, Fields 2.