Walla Walla Community College’s Dylan Wilbert drilled a two-out, eighth-inning double to left field, driving home McLoughlin High graduate Dylan Shuler as well as Taylor Brooks, for a 6-2 lead over Wenatchee Valley and gave the Warriors some insurance as Dayton High alumn Lowden Smith pitched a scoreless ninth for the finishing touch on their baseball doubleheader sweep on WWCC’s field on Wednesday.
The Warriors won a quick first game, 10-0, before taking the 6-2 win in the nightcap of the Northwest Athletic Conference’s East Region matchup.
The Warriors (15-4 overall, 5-1 in the division) extended their winning streak to five in a row, with pitcher Jake Simmons shutting out Wenatchee for seven innings in the first game until it stopped suddenly out of mercy for the Knights.
Then, WWCC starter Cameron Walker followed with six scoreless in the second game before turning the mound over to the bullpen.
“That’s kind of been the story for us most of the year,” Walla Walla coach Dave Meliah said. “Our starting pitchers set the tone. Obviously, Jake did that in the first game.”
Simmons improved his record to 3-1 by scattering five singles, without any walks, and three strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Ryan Riepma led the Warriors’ offense with a double and two singles for three runs batted in.
Walla Walla also coaxed nine bases-on-balls from Wenatchee pitching and took advantage of the Knights’ three errors as well as a wild pitch.
Wenatchee pitcher Zace Lewis started with two scoreless innings, until the Warriors’ Steve Sordahl singled home Riepma in the third, and Walker followed with a sacrifice fly to score Brooks for a 2-0 lead. That was all Simmons needed, but the Walla Walla scoring spree had only just begun.
Lewis missed the strike zone with his first 10 pitches of the fourth inning, Walla Walla’s Blake Macdonald singled on his 12th pitch to load the bases, and Riempa doubled home Josh Kutzke and Garrett March.
Lewis nearly escaped further damage as he got two outs, but before he managed the third, Riepma scored on a wild pitch and an error gave the Warriors a 6-0 lead.
Wenatchee left-hander Parker Rasmussen replaced Lewis in the fifth inning, but Walla Walla added two more runs and another in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Simmons kept the Knights off the scoreboard with help from the Warrior defense, including Kutzke at third base, from where he started a double play in the fifth inning and then brought the crowd to its feet on back-to-back plays in the sixth.
“There weren’t that many balls hit hard off (Simmons),” Meliah said. “Putting zeros on the board makes it easy for the offense because they’re able to get comfortable, knowing that we just have to get a couple of runs and Jake’s going to kind of slam it shut.”
Another Wenatchee lefty, Austin Skeen, then started the bottom of the seventh inning with four consecutive walks, the last forcing home a run that increased the Warriors’ lead to 10-0, enough at that point to end the game on the mercy rule.
The second game, by contrast, was a pitchers’ duel.
Walker lasted six innings and left with a 3-0 lead, as he scattered five Wenatchee singles, three walks and two hit-batters, but totaled six strikeouts.
“I felt pretty good,” Walker said. “Fortunately, the defense made some pretty good plays today. That helped a lot. The innings that I fell behind hitters, walked a couple of guys, the defense got me a couple of big double plays.”
The Walla Walla starter breezed through his first six hitters in succession before running into trouble in the third inning.
Wilbert erased the leadoff walk by throwing out Thomas Scheffler as he tried to steal second base, but Walker then gave up a single, hit a batter with a pitch and issued another walk to load the bases before Brooks turned a double play.
Wenatchee’s Kolby DeHaas singled with two outs in the fourth inning and advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, but Walker then muscled up for a strikeout.
“Cam was Cam,” Meliah said of Walker. “He’s kind of effectively wild at times. He got into a few little hairy messes where he didn’t throw enough strikes and gave them opportunities, but we had some good defensive plays, turned some double plays that cleaned it up for him.”
The Knights singled with only one out in the fifth inning, but Kutzke then started another double play.
“That’s been Cam his two years here,” Meliah said. “He’ll work his way into stuff, and then wiggle his way out. Really the credit goes to our defense, making plays behind him. That’s kind of what we’ve been talking about all year: good solid pitching and then great defensive behind those guys.”
Walker’s last inning started with a walk and another hit batter before Tanner Angel taxed Walker through for nine pitches.
However, Walker won the extended battle with a strikeout, and Shuler then kept the Knights scoreless with a running catch in left field. An infield single off Walker’s foot loaded the bases, but the Warrior right-hander struck out 6-foot-4, 225-pound pinch-hitter Nolan Wirth.
“I was able to get ahead of a few guys,” Walker said. “When there was runners on, I got ahead and worked 10 percent extra and threw my off-speed stuff and made sure I got it in a good spot.”
Meanwhile, Wenatchee pitcher Kyler Watts kept the Knights in the game.
Brooks doubled in the third inning with one out and then scored on Sordahl’s single, but Watts then fanned Wilbert and retired Kutzke to limit Walla Walla to the one run.
The Warrior scratched out another run in the fifth inning, when Wilbert laced a two-out single scoring Shuler, who had been hit by a pitch before Brooks bunted him to second and Sordahl then flies out.
Wilbert’s fifth-inning single for a 2-0 lead wound up being the first of three clutch hits by Walla Walla, and the Warriors scored the rest of their runs with two outs on three separate occasions.
Macdonald increased the lead to 3-0 in the sixth inning, when he raced home on a wild pitch with two down. Watts had hit him with a pitch before Riepma singled him to second, and Macdonald then took third as the Knight turned a double play.
The Knights finally scored their first run in the top of the seventh inning, and Wenatchee reliever Eann Gregory started the bottom of the half with two quick outs until March singled and then scored on Macdonald’s double for a 4-1 lead.
“We had some big two-out hits there in the seventh inning that gave us a little bit of comfort,” Meliah said.
Wenatchee answered with another run in the eighth on back-to-back doubles with two outs, increasing the tension before Walla Walla went to bat and Gregory quickly notched a three-pitch strikeout.
With one away, Shuler ripped a double down the left-field line and Wenatchee’s first error of the second game on a Brooks grounder put the Warriors in good position with the top of their batting order due up.
Gregory managed to retire Sordahl on a groundout for the second out, but Wilbert smashed his first pitch into left field for a 6-2 lead.
“You know now you’ve got a little bit of room to work with,” Meliah said. “You’re not going to sweat if they get one guy on and now they’ve got the tying run coming to the plate if it’s just a two-run lead. That allows Lowden, who’s coming in, to close the game out. It allows our defense to just kind of breath a little bit and not try and do too much. Just get outs, bottom line. We don’t have to try and make any big crazy plays. Just get three outs and end the ballgame.”
Smith did just that, overcoming a leadoff single to retire the last three hitters in a row and wrap up the Walla Walla win.
The Warriors next play Saturday at Spokane.
Article by Hector del Castillo of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Photo by Michael Lopez of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin