WALLA WALLA — JJ Robinson’s lackluster batting practice session leading up to the Warriors doubleheader with Wenatchee Valley didn’t seem to affect the Walla Walla sophomore.
Instead, Robinson blasted three home runs combined — including a grand slam — en route to 11 RBIs across the two games.
“He’s got some pop in his bat,” WWCC coach Dave Meliah said of Robinson. “When he’s not swinging for it — when he’s just seeing the ball and getting good pitches to hit — he can do some damage.”
The Warriors won the opener 7-2 before completing the sweep by a 12-6 margin in the nightcap. The Warriors’ balanced offense — nine different players recorded a hit in the second game — made life easy on the WWCC pitching staff.
“We’re pretty tough at the plate,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of guys that can swing it. Hopefully it stays like that all year.”
In the second game, Robinson put Walla Walla on the board almost immediately. After No. 2 hitter Jarod Gonzales reached on a walk, Robinson wasted little time before lacing a line drive just over the right field wall to give WWCC a 2-0 lead. But the offense wasn’t done there, as Clayten Ayres and Ryan Neal followed Robinson with back-to-back hits. With runners on second and third, catcher Jake Browne plated Ayres with a sacrifice fly to give the Warriors a 3-0 lead in the first.
“Up and down the lineup, everybody had good swings,” Meliah said. “Again, they’d get a run, we’d answer back, they’d get two, we’d answer back.”
Wenatchee Valley responded in the top of the second by plating a run on an RBI single to center by Nathan Zuidema.#But Robinson and the Warriors struck back in the bottom of the second, as Chandler Whitney opened the inning with a single and Seth Wolfe and Gonzales both reached base after being hit by pitches.
With the bases chucked, Robinson stepped to the plate with a chance to add to his already impressive day at the plate. He promptly launched a moonshot over the right field fence that seemed destined to leave the field as soon as it struck the bat.
“That one I was looking for something up,” Robinson said. “Then he gave it to me and I got a little more than I thought I was going to get.”
“When the guys in front of him get on base — Seth and Jarod — that really puts pressure on the pitcher,” Meliah added.
With a 7-1 lead, Walla Walla relied on starting pitcher Juan Munoz the rest of the way. Munoz’s lone hiccup came in the fourth inning against Wenatchee Valley’s Randy Fuller, who sent a Munoz pitch over the left field fence to make it 9-2.
The Walla Walla bats simply kept tacking on runs from there, however, as a Corey Morris single plated Ryan Neal to get back the run in the bottom of the fourth.
Munoz found his groove from there, as he struck out the side in the sixth, before retiring the side in order in the seventh.
“They know they don’t have to be too perfect, they just have to throw strikes and we got a good defense behind them too,” Meliah said. “Anytime you pitch with a lead like that, you don’t have to be too fine.”
Munoz went eight innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and striking out seven.
“He was pounding the strike zone,” Meliah said. “Anytime you can get ahead in the count, you can do some stuff. You can throw your breaking ball a little more. He worked ahead and it’s a lot easier to pitch that way.”
The Warriors allowed the Knights to score three runs in the top of the ninth, as pitcher Michael Schmidt had trouble closing the door on Wenatchee Valley. Meliah downplayed the urgency of the late surge, saying “the energy level in those kind of games can wane.”
In the first game, Walla Walla pitcher Jesse Houser kept the Knights at bay, as he went seven innings, allowing just two runs. The game-changing play came in the third inning, Meliah said, as Trevor Jones came up with a strike from center field to throw out a runner at third.
The runner — Anthony Bonilla — had just given Wenatchee Valley their only lead of the day with a two-run double in the third inning.
But the Warriors regained the lead in the bottom of the third, as Robinson launched a two-run bomb to give the Warriors the lead for good.
“You got to add on in those situations because this is a good club,” Meliah said of Wenatchee Valley. “They knocked us out of the playoffs last year and they’re talented. I felt like if we could get a few more runs to that early lead, then it would give us some confidence.”
The Warriors square off with conference foe Yakima this weekend. Meliah said Wednesday’s sweep was nice, but downplayed its importance on the rest of the season.
“It can set the tone,” he said. “But it doesn’t really mean much if you don’t follow it up. The league isn’t won or loss depending on the first doubleheader of the year.”