WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee AppleSox followed a dominating offensive performance Tuesday with an absolute show from their pitchers Wednesday, when the home team squeeked out a huge 2-1 win over the Walla Walla Sweets.
Starter Trevor Lubking finally got a whiff of run support and earned his second win of the season on a dynamo performance that started with four perfect frames and included 10 strikeouts when the lefty’s night was done after seven innings of work. Lubking was relieved by University of San Francisco’s Houston Hibberd, who struck out five of the six batters he faced to save the one-run win.
“I knew it was going to be a battle,” Lubking, of Pacific Lutheran University, said. “(Sweets starter Matt Hall) was pitching really well. Put it simply, it was a war. (Hall) pitched his butt off, and I was throwing my best game. We happened to scratch a few out and get the W — that’s what it’s all about. Our bullpen came up big today and that was huge for us.”
The Wenatchee defense also made some big plays to keep Walla Walla from sustaining much of an offense attack. Shortstop Joe Mello made a remarkable play to keep Dominic Miroglio from leading off the third with a hit: Mello ranged to his left, fielding a well-struck ball up the middle, composed himself and threw a strike to first despite his momentum taking him the other way. Later, in the sixth — one frame after the Sweets had taken a 1-0 lead on two of the three hits Lubking surrendered — first baseman Connor Spencer gloved a screaming line drive and stepped on first for a double play to end what proved to be Walla Walla’s last threat.
“There isn’t a ton of defense with 15 strikeouts — that’s five innings of outs — so we only had to play defense for four,” Wenatchee head coach Ed Knaggs said after the game.
It wasn’t a dominating AppleSox win by any means. Hall surrendered only six hits, and squeezed out of a bases-loaded jam in the first by getting Spencer — who leads the West Coast League in batting average — to ground into a double play. Hall then mowed through four innings before Mello led off the sixth with a single to right. Mello inevitably got to third on a passed-ball and a wild pitch, and scored when designated hitter Andre Real knocked a single up the middle.
One inning later, second baseman Grant Palmer — who has been fighting a banged up ankle for a couple of weeks — pulled a 1-0 fastball to left field for a leadoff single. A sac bunt and a ground out to the right side of the infield moved Palmer to third base, which — according to Knaggs — was fortunate for the ailing infielder from UC Irvine.
“He didn’t have to run as far,” the skipper said.
With Palmer on 90 feet away from securing the lead, all-star outfielder Brett Stephens — the hero of Tuesday’s game — blasted a 3-2 pitch over the center fielder’s head to give the Sox a 2-1 advantage.
“(Hall) was pitching well all night, so we were trying to keep it simple and get one across,” Palmer said. “I got a big, clutch hit at the end, which was key. It was nice to get the win.”
The win — combined with the Bellingham Bells losing to the Medford Rogues — puts the AppleSox back in sole possession of first-place with seven league-games left. Blake Phelps will take the hill in the series-finale tonight. Phelps has started two games for the Sox this season: He gave up less than three runs and five hits in each game. The Sox used only four pitchers in the last two games and with a day off and non-league games in the immediate future, Knaggs will have a near-full complement of relievers to throw at the Sweets.
“When you get down to seven (games remaining on the schedule), obviously the championship is something you’re going for,” Knaggs, who has won a half-dozen WCL titles, said. “I was always taught to never settle for second-place, or else you tend to do that a lot. It’s been a long summer, why don’t we go ahead — while we’re here — try to do something special?”
NOTES: (Statistics courtesy of Sox scorekeeper and local historian Bruce Bennett). The AppleSox have twice tallied 17 strikeouts in a 9-inning game. … Spencer — despite going 0-for-4 Wednesday — still leads the WCL with a .390 batting average. … Wenatchee leads the WCL in hits (447), doubles (92 — which is one shy of tying the team and league record) and total bases (583), but lost the lead in runs Wednesday, when Klamath Falls overtook the Sox with a nine-run night. … The AppleSox are now 6-0 in games played on July 31. … Wednesday night’s game was the 16th one-run game for the Sox this season. They have played 47 games total and the team is 9-7 in the close contests.
Jacob Palmer: 661-5222
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story said Connor Lawhead started for the Sweets. Lawhead actually relieved Hall and threw only the 8th inning.