By Walla Walla Sweets
WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The Sweets turned the tides on the Black Bears Wednesday night, as four pitchers combined to allow just one run on eight hits in a 5-1 Sweets victory at Borleske Stadium.
The win snapped the Sweets' (15-21) five-game losing streak and moved them within seven games of Bellingham for the final playoff spot in the East Division. The Black Bears (16-20) had their three-game winning streak snapped and remain four games behind Corvallis for first place in the West Division.
A night after being stymied by three Black Bear pitchers, the quartet of Arturo Reyes, Tyler Billen, Doug Ashby and Simon Anderson were dominant in leading the Sweets to the victory. Reyes did not have his best stuff but was able to pitch out of several early inning jams, exiting after striking out six, walking four and allowing one run over 4 1/3 innings. Billen went the next 2 2/3, picking up four strikeouts and allowing just two hits in earning his first win of the summer. Ashby and Anderson tossed a scoreless eighth and ninth, respectively.
Walla Walla's offense got the pitching staff an early run with back-to-back doubles in the first inning. Brett Jacobs doubled down the left field line with one out and Shane Zeile followed with an RBI double over the head of the left fielder to make it 1-0.
After Cowlitz rallied to tie the score at 1-1 in the fourth, the Sweets got their biggest hit of the game from Marc Garza. Kris Paulino worked a walk and Garza worked a full count before drilling a hanging breaking ball to left-center to score Paulino and break the tie.
From there, the Sweets would tack on three more insurance runs. Alex Bonczyk led off the fifth inning with a bunt single down the first base line, moved to second on a sac bunt, to third on a ground ball and scored on a two-out infield single from Nick Vilter. Bonczyk was the catalyst again in the seventh, ripping a leadoff triple to right-center. He scored two batters later on a Zeile single to left to make it 4-1. A wild pickoff throw sent Zeile all the way to third and he would score the final Sweets run on a wild pitch.
The real story was the Sweets' pitching, however. After a quick 1-2-3 first, Reyes had to work hard over the next 3.1 innings. An infield error and two walks loaded the bases for the Black Bears in the second but Reyes stayed strong and got a shallow fly to left and a comebacker to the mound to escape unscathed. A single and a walk put two on with two outs in the third but Reyes got a strikeout to end the frame. His best work might have come in the fourth inning. Kyle Kuck started the frame with a double to left, Alex Rubanowitz singled to center and Jeff Hazard singled over the leap of Vilter to tie the game at 1-1. A fielder's choice ground out and a walk then loaded the bases with only one out. But, as he has all summer, Reyes worked out of the jam by striking out the final two batters of the inning to leave the bases loaded.
Those back-to-back strikeouts started a string of seven consecutive strikeouts for Sweets pitching. Reyes started the fifth and struck out the first batter before handing the ball off to Billen. The crafty lefty then struck out the next two batters to end the frame before striking out the first two batters to start the sixth. A fly to right ended a scoreless sixth and a big caught stealing in the seventh erased a leadoff runner as Billen put together his best outing of the summer.
Ashby entered in the eighth and worked around a two-out error to work a scoreless inning. It was the third-straight game that Ashby has appeared in. Anderson entered in the ninth and worked out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam with a strikeout to finish the game.
Bonczyk had three hits from the leadoff spot in the lineup and Zeile finished with two hits and two RBI. Kalani Brackenridge was 0-for-4, ending his hitting streak at 12 games.
The Sweets and Black Bears finish their three-game series on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Zach Brandon will get the ball for the Sweets.