By Walla Walla Sweets
LONGVIEW, Wash. – Spencer O'Neil hit a towering two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning to break a 1-1 tie and Ben Ruff left the tying runs on base in the bottom of the inning as the Sweets earned a 3-1 victory over the Black Bears on Wednesday night at Story Field.
The Sweets (14-16) have won each of the first two games of the series over the Black Bears (12-18) by a combined score of 6-3. Walla Walla also improved to 2-1 in extra-inning games this season.
With the scored tied 1-1 in the top of the 11th inning, Nick Vilter was hit by a pitch with one out to put a runner on base. Cowlitz reliever Kody Watts got a fly to left for the second out and quickly jumped ahead of O'Neil 1-2. Entering the game in the ninth as a pinch-hitter, O'Neil had already struck out once against Watts on the night but he changed the result this time around. Watts 1-2 pitch was waist-high and O'Neil walloped it over the double fence in right-center to give the Sweets the lead.
Cowlitz didn't go quietly in its last chance either. A hit and an error put runners on the corners with no outs in the 11th but Ruff came back to get a strikeout for the first out. Ruff then induced a shallow pop to left that Vilter snagged over his shoulder and a ground ball to Vilter that he fielded to end the game. It was Ruff's first win of the summer.
Wednesday saw another outstanding pitching matchup between Arturo Reyes and Koby Gauna. Both allowed just one run over six innings before handing the ball to their respective bullpens. Game two of the series also saw the Black Bears miss out on several opportunities to win the ballgame.
After tying the game in the sixth with a two-out single, the Black Bears threatened again in the seventh against reliever Joe Arlt. A one-out single started what looked to be a rally but Shane Zeile snagged a back-hander at third and started an inning-ending double play. A walk and a hit then put runners on the corners with one out in the eighth inning but Arlt got a soft ground ball to short that the Sweets middle infield was able to turn into an inning-ending 6-4-3 twin killing.
The Black Bears then had their best chance of the evening in the 10th. Against Sweets reliever Luke West, Cowlitz put runners on the corners with one out on back-to-back hits. The Sweets then summoned Ruff and the right-hander intentionally walked Matt Ozanne to load the bases. He then fell behind Cody Childs 3-1 and nearly walked in the winning run but got the strike call to send the count full. Child then popped the next pitch up to short and Ruff ended the threat by blowing a fastball past Drew Luther.
Walla Walla grabbed the early lead in the fourth on a sac fly from Ryan Cooper. J.J. Robinson walked and Chance Kopacz singled to put the first two runners on and Beau Fraser's fielder's choice put runners on the corners with one out. Cooper followed with a fly to right that scored Robinson with the first run.
Cowlitz tied the game in the fifth thanks to a clutch two-out single. A leadoff walk, sac bunt and a ground ball to the right side put a runner on third and Alex Rubanowitz knocked a single up the middle to knot the score.
Making his sixth start of the summer, Reyes was dominant for the third consecutive outing. The right-hander allowed just one run on three hits over six innings. He walked three and struck out three. Reyes has allowed one run or less in five of his six starts this summer. He left a runner on third with a strikeout in the first, got help from a 3-6 double play in the second and then set down the next six batters before allowing his only run in the fifth. Reyes finished his night by stranding a runner on third with a pop up to first to end the sixth.
Gauna was just as good for the Black Bears. He allowed one run on seven hits over six innings and struck out four. The Sweets loaded the bases with three consecutive two-out singles in the third but Gauna got a strikeout to leave them loaded. After allowing the run in the fourth, he got a scoreless fifth and a 4-6-3 double play in the sixth to complete his night. Cole Irvin and Felipe Perez tossed scoreless frames in the seventh and the eighth before Watts took over in the ninth.
Kris Paulino and Brett Jacobs each had two hits for the Sweets and Robinson reached base three times with a hit and a pair of walks.
The Sweets and Black Bears finish their three-game series on Thursday night with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch. Matt Imhof will get the start for the Sweets.