WALLA WALLA, WA -- The Walla Walla Sweets played a doubleheader after Wednesday's rain-out, winning the series over Wenatchee Thursday at Borleske Stadium. The AppleSox managed some late inning heroics in the 9th inning to win game one 2-1, but Sweets starter Chris Lovejoy upped the ante in the nightcap. Lovejoy threw seven complete innings in game two, winning a 2-0 shutout of the AppleSox, flirting with a no hitter before allowing a hit with two outs in the last inning. West Coast League doubleheaders are seven inning affairs in each game.
Lovejoy watched from behind home plate in game one as the Sweets played a tight match against Wenatchee, with neither team scoring until the late innings. Walla Walla scored first in the fifth inning when short stop Nick Vilter singled with one out before a walk to designated hitter Jarod Gonzales moved him to second base. Beau Bozett followed with a walk to load the bases, and a third consecutive walk to second baseman Reggie Southall drove in the first run of the game for a 1-0 Walla Walla lead.
That lead didn't last long as AppleSox designated hitter Andre Real led off the top of the sixth with a home run to left field off of Sweets starter Jonathan Harris, tying the game at 1-1. Harris pitched 7.2 innings, striking out nine in the no decision. With the game in extra innings, right-hander Connor Lawhead came in to relieve him, but after retiring the first two hitters in the ninth, left fielder Brett Stephens doubled down the left field line to drive in the winning run. Walla Walla went down in order in the ninth to seal the 2-1 win for Wenatchee.
Lawhead took his first loss of the year to move to 2-1 this season, walking one in 1.1 innings of work. AppleSox reliever Lars Rider earned his first win of the year out of the bullpen in three innings pitched with four strikeouts, one walk and only allowing one hit. Starter Jake Bruml earned the no decision in five innings of work.
"The first loss, that was unfortunate," second baseman Scott Silva said. "We always like to win the series [in] the first two games. But it gave us fire to come back in the third game and win it so we can take [the series]."
That's what Walla Walla did, and Lovejoy stole the show in game two.
Lovejoy started game two of Thursday's double-header strong, retiring the first six hitters he faced before walking AppleSox catcher Eric Hutting. A sacrifice bunt moved Hutting to second base, but Lovejoy got out of the inning. In a briskly moving game, Lovejoy only struckout four as he let his defense work behind him. In his seven complete innings, it was Silva who was involved in two of the most dramatic defensive plays of the game.
In the top of the sixth, second baseman Andre Real hit a soft fly ball over second base, toward shallow center field, but Silva tracked the ball down and made an over-the-shoulder-catch to end the top of the inning. It was Wenatchee's best bid for a hit in the game.
The seventh inning saw the end to the no-hit bid. As fate would have it, Bruml -- the starting pitcher in game one of the double-header -- was the hitter with two outs in the top of the seventh. On the first pitch swinging, Bruml lined the ball back to Lovejoy. It kicked off his foot, ricocheting into shallow right field, where Silva grabbed the ball and made a quick throw to first base, but Bruml beat the throw to end the no-hit bid. Hutting struck out in the next at-bat to end the game.
"First of all, Chris did a great job. He had an outstanding appearance," Silva said. "The ball came to me and I just tried to get rid of it as fast as I could. I knew what was going on, and I knew the situation, so I tried to save him. Just couldn't get [the throw] off in time."
After the game, Lawhead snuck up behind Lovejoy for a celebratory shaving-cream-pie to the face. The rest of the team, privvy to Lawhead's plan, erupted in cheers and a round of applause.
"I felt good. The team looked good. We ended up winning. There's nothing better than a game like that," Lovejoy said. "I just tried to pitch to contact, get a lot of ground balls, fly balls... I just tried to let the defense work and do the job for me."
The win is the first of the year for the left-hander, as Lovejoy lowers his ERA to 2.07. Wenatchee starter Beau Kerns took the loss in six innings pitched to move to 0-1 on the season.
The Sweets are now 7-5 in the West Coast League North Division and the AppleSox drop to fourth place 5-7.
The Sweets finish the home stand with the Medford Rogues in Walla Walla for a weekend set. Game one is scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch Friday.