From Walla Walla Sweets
WALLA WALLA, WA -- Connor Dillman understood his chances to make more than one start for the Walla Walla Sweets (27-22) this season were slim. So Tuesday night at Borleske Stadium, the right-hander made the most of his first opportunity of the year, hurling 7.1 innings of no-hit baseball against the Kelowna Falcons (17-33) en route to a club-record 27th victory, the most in any one season for the Sweets franchise. Dillman ended his night after eight complete frames, striking out six and walking none in the 6-0 win. It was the second consecutive night a Sweets starter had gone at least seven innings without allowing a hit, as left-hander Chris Lovejoy dominated the Falcons Monday evening in similar form.
Although a starting pitcher at Emory University, Sweets manager J.C. Biagi has called upon Dillman typically for relief out of the bullpen. However Tuesday night was not anything out of the ordinary for a young right-hander who felt "dialed in" on the mound.
"It was pretty refreshing actually," he said. "I feel at home as a starter, just because that's what I've been doing for two years at Emory."
After retiring the first nine men at the plate, the first Falcons base runner to reach was lead-off man and catcher Reed Lovallee who was hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth inning. A strikeout, fielder's choice and an unassisted ground out at shortstop later, Dillman worked out of the inning unscathed, giving credit to his defense for keeping him in the game.
"We've been playing really well lately," he said. "And I felt like tonight if I put a ball on the ground, an infielder was going to get it. They fielded everything."
Walla Walla's offense was also very sharp, taking advantage of early mistakes by Kelowna starter James Sloan. Sweets third baseman Jarod Gonzales was hit with a pitch to lead off the bottom of the second, and catcher Dominic Miroglio followed with a bunt single past the mound. A walk to right fielder Jake Wylie loaded the bases before Matt Mendenhall drew a one-out free pass to drive in the first run of the game. Two hitters later, designated hitter Kramer Lindell drew a walk to push another run across, giving the Sweets a 2-0 lead.
More offense followed in the third with shortstop Nick Vilter on after a base hit to left field. Gonzales followed with a single to right, ending Sloan's night just two innings into the game. Miroglio struck again in that third frame with an RBI single up the middle on the first offering from reliever Karl Myers to give Walla Walla a 3-0 edge. The Sweets slugging catcher also sent home a run with his third base hit of the night in the fifth inning, another single, with Vilter scoring on the play.
As the Sweets led 4-0, second baseman John Skrbec stepped to the plate. Skrbec, who leads the team in strikeouts and has struggled defensively as well, connected with a 1-1 pitch for his fourth home run of the year, a towering shot over the left field wall. That tied him for the team lead with Mendenhall as the Sweets took a commanding 6-0 lead, which proved to be plenty of run support for Dillman.
After hitting Lovallee in the fourth, Dillman retired a stretch of 13 consecutive Falcons. In the seventh, a line drive to right center field made the Borleske Faithful hold their collective breath, as Dillman also admitted it looked to be the most likely chance to dash the hope of continuing the no-hit bid. Yet Jono Herkins raced in to make a running grab to end the threat. Herkins made a similar catch to start the eighth inning, but second baseman Scotland Church ended Dillman's hitless streak with an infield single in the following at-bat. Vilter ranged up the middle, nearly colliding with Skrbec on the play, but upon fielding the ball he stumlbed to the dirt and was unable to relay a throw to first base. However disappointed, Dillman still worked the rest of the inning, stranding two base runners and keeping the shutout alive.
Dillman was quick to give credit to his catcher Miroglio, who had already done enough work offensively to that point in support of the starting effort.
"Dom was great [behind the plate,]" Dillman said. "He called a great game. I think I only called him off three or four times."
Dillman also went on to mention trusting his infield when pitching a game like the one Tuesday. Of the 28 hitters he faced, 11 were ground ball outs to go along with his six strikeouts. In the ninth, newcomer Jesse Houser closed out a quick 1-2-3 frame as he retired the side on just 13 pitches.
The Sweets will go for the sweep of Kelowna Wednesday night in the final home game of the 2013 regular season. Left-hander Matt Hall will get the start for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.