WALLA WALLA — On a beautiful day for baseball, the Tri-Cities Badgers and Walla Walla Cubs split a hotly contested doubleheader at Murr Field on Thursday.
The homestanding Cubs won the opener, 5-4, before the Badgers pulled out the nightcap, 5-3.
Both pitchers opened the first game feeling out the umpire’s strike zone before settling into a pitchers’ duel.
A key moment came in the third inning when Badgers pitcher Gabe Johnson attempted a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, which turned into a costly doubleplay.
The first run of the game came in the third inning when the Cubs’ Nick Zehner was able to score on a wild throw back to the pitcher.
The Badgers’ starting pitcher kept his composure through the sixth, however, escaping bases-loaded situations twice on the afternoon while on the mound.
Tri-Cities evened it up in the fourth when Jose Vasquez singled in the tying run.
In the fifth, the Cubs’ Hayden White was able to bring Hogan Heytvelt home with his own bloop single. After the fifth inning both clubs made pitching changes, with the Badgers bringing in Trent Mercudo and the Cubs going to reliever Zander Norris.
Norris had some early trouble with the strike zone, walking two of his first three batters and yielding to Koty Hano.
In the seventh, it appeared the Badgers would escape with the early victory after scoring two runs. But the Cubs’ Silas Shumate had other ideas, and was able to come up with a game-tying RBI in the bottom of the seventh to send it to extra innings. With Hano forcing three consecutive ground balls to short in the top of the eighth, the Cubs were able to get a walk-off win as a Kyle Gradwohl double brought Heytvelt home in celebration.
“It was nice to see the kids continue to battle even though we got down in the seventh after some bad luck in the early innings not getting runners in with less then two outs,” Cubs coach Kevin McNeil said. “Our team showed a lot of character to get this victory.”
The Badgers appeared eager to avenge their game-one loss in the nightcap, and took an early 1-0 lead that they never surrendered. The Cubs tied the game up in the second when Haen scored, but in the fourth the Badgers put the game out of reach. After a close call on a play at first, the Badgers’ Wyatt Meetins came up to the plate with runners on second and third and proceeded to hit a double to the gap, bringing both in to score.
Meetins himself scored later in the inning off a wild pitch to the backstop.
The Cubs were able to make a late charge in the sixth with two runs of their own, but the lead proved to be to large.
“We had our chances in this game, but their pitcher kept us from scoring,” McNeil said. “Overall, it was nice to see the team compete all day against a good team from the Tri-Cities.”
The Cubs (9-6) face Prosser at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Tri-Cities 000 101 20 — 4 8 1
Walla Walla 001 010 21 — 5 7 0
TC: Johnson, Mercudo (6) and Meetens; WW: Zehner, Norris (6) Hano (6) and Heytvelt.
Hits — TC: Vasquez 3, Zilar 2, Johnson, Dickson, C. Ritala; WW: White 3, Heytvelt, Gradwohl 2, Shumate.
Tri-Cities 100 301 0 — 5 8 0
Walla Walla 010 002 0 — 3 7 1
TC: Hawk and Meetens; WW: Heytvelt, Norris (6), Dunn (7) and Haen.
Hits — TC: Dickson, Zilar, Jileck, C. Ritala, B. Ritala; WW: White, Heytvelt, Haen, Gradwohl 2, Weigand, Hano.