WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla Sweets made a valiant comeback attempt Tuesday night at Borleske Stadium, but ultimately fell one run short against the Yakima Valley Pippins, 8-7.
The loss was the first game of a three-game series against the West Coast League East Division-leading Pippins. The series continues at 7:05 tonight at Borleske.
The Pippins’ offense exploded in the second inning, plating seven runs in the inning. Ryan Rosa got the first hit of the game with a hard shot up the middle, only to be brought home on a Laz Villa double.
Villa and Harrison Ramey came home with the second and third runs when Shawn Wardian hit a single down the left-field line.
Mitch Skaggs’ single made it 4-0 Yakima Valley, and Vince Fernandez’s three-run home run then ended the day of Sweets starter Chris Kerwood.
The Sweets got their offense going in the third when John Skrbec was able to launch a line drive to the center-field wall for a leadoff triple.
Skrbec later scored on a Michael Duarte sacrifice fly to left.
The scoring then mellowed as Walla Walla reliever Jake Campeau and Pippins starter Austin Woodward settled in on the mound.
Campeau was replaced in the sixth with Cody Matthews, who gave up a lone run when Nick Kern was able to score while the Sweets defense was preoccupied trying to turn a double play — which was elongated by some smart Pippins baserunning.
“Jake (Campeau) came in and strung together 3 1/3 (innings) and did a nice job,” Sweets acting manager Rob Holtzinger said. “(Cody) Mathews came in and stablized things and got out of his inning (the sixth).”
Holtzinger filled in while Walla Walla manager J.C. Biagi serves a four-game suspension from an ejection last week.
After the sixth, the Sweets bullpen gave Walla Walla a fighting chance at making a seven-run comeback.
The Sweets’ rally started in the bottom of the seventh when Parker Osborne, Cooper Hummel and Renae Martinez singled to load the bases with none out, and Kyle Nixon’s double scored Osborne and Hummel.
But with two runners in scoring position and still no outs, the Sweets ended the inning with two strikeouts and a flyout.
Trailing 8-5 in the bottom of the eighth, Walla Walla looked like it could complete its comeback when Andrew Mendenhall narrowly missed a home run down the left-field line for a double, followed by Mike Paulson’s two-run homer over the right-field wall
In the ninth, Pippins reliever Kenny Rosenburg gave up an opening walk to Jarod Gonzales and Mark Contreras singled. Both moved up on Rosenburg’s throwing error.
Mendenhall then smacked a two-run single to make it 8-7.
Osborne’s one-out double put the tying run on third and the winning run at second, but Yakima’s Nick Kern took over on the mound and struck out the next two Sweets batters to eke out the victory.
Holtzinger was pleased with the Sweets’ resilience despite getting down early.
“We have a lot of experience with (playing from behind), we know we have pop in the offense and we never felt we were really out of it,” Holtzinger said. “We needed to get our pitching going for the rest of the game, but our offense can battle back well.”
The loss brings the Sweets’ record to 21-22 and four games out of first place in the East Division.
Holtzinger knows how important the next two games are against the East-leading Pippins.
“We have to come out and dump our energy every game,” he said. “They are a good team, but we have to come out tomorrow and play strong fundamental baseball.”
Pippins 8, Sweets 7
Yakima Valley 070 001 000 — 8 11 1
Walla Walla 001 000 222 — 7 11 2
Woodward, Fitzpatrick (8). Rosenberg(8), Kern (9) and Guenette. Kerwood, Campeau (2), Mathews (6), Barker(8) Carkner (9) and Martinez.
HR — Yak: Fernandez; WW: Paulson.
Hits — Yak: Wardian 2, Kern, Skaggs, Jacobs, Fernandez, Guenette, Rosa, Ramey, Villa 2; WW: Contreras, Mendenhall 2, Paulson, Osborne 2, Hummel, Martinez 2, Nixon, Skrbec.