WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee AppleSox hung on for an important win — and a share of first place — over the Victoria HarbourCats in the last home series-opener of the regular season Monday.
The Sox got to the Victoria starting pitcher in the fifth inning and Wenatchee starter Beau Kerns had another solid outing as the AppleSox came away with a 6-4 victory.
“This is a good team that we struggled with at their place a few weeks ago,” Wenatchee head coach Ed Knaggs said after the game. “We didn’t get great swings early. But we put up a big, crooked number in the fifth.”
The AppleSox put themselves on the board — giving Kerns, who just finished his second year at Wenatchee Valley College, some run support — in the bottom of the fifth, when Ryan Barr and Stockton Taylor led off the frame with singles. Barr made it from first to third on Taylor’s slap single and then the right fielder scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of catcher Joey Harris.
“Ryan got things started for us, he’s been a good bat to have in our lineup,” Knaggs said.
With one out, Brett Stephens and Joe Mello each hit singles — with Mello’s single scoring Taylor, who was at second. Stephens was plated on a fielder’s choice from Grant Palmer. The second baseman Palmer scored two hitters later on a Connor Spencer base-hit, to extend the AppleSox lead to 4-2.
WVC’s Lars Rider relieved his former teammate in the eighth. But the HarbourCats used Rider as a target in the ninth. Alex DeGoti and Jordan Ellis hit singles literally off of the pitcher. After walking John Schuknecht, Rider was pulled in favor of Houston Hibberd.
“Three-run leads are really nice, which we were fortunate to have when baseball happened,” Knaggs said. “It goes off his forearm — that was weird — another goes off of him, and those things happen. Your lead has to be big enough at the end so if some baseball happens, you’re OK.”
Hibberd got a fielder’s choice — which scored a meaningless run — and a strikeout to end the game.
The Victoria offense saw Kerns’ pitches well to start the game. Sox shortstop Joe Mello committed an error on a groundball hit by the leadoff hitter, DeGoti, to open the game. Then Ellis knocked a single up the middle, and — after a failed double-steal attempt picked DeGoti off the basepaths — Ellis scored on a Schuknecht drive. Kerns escaped the inning — on a line drive that happened to be right at the first baseman Spencer — with just a 1-0 deficit.
“Left a lot of balls up in the first couple innings,” Kerns explained.
Kerns ran into a bit of trouble in the top of the third when he gave up the second leadoff single in as many innings. The HarbourCats worked the bases loaded after another single and a walk, but Kerns induced a 1-2-3 double-play and escaped the frame on a softly hit line drive to second.
“You talk about a vintage Beau Kerns start, you begin with the bases-loaded, nobody out and they don’t score,” Knaggs said. “He’s had that knack for two years and I don’t know what it is. I know he’s tougher than snot, but he’s got that ability. What is it? If you knew exactly what it was and you could coach it, you’d teach all your guys to do it.”
Kerns retired 11 straight — starting in the fourth after surrendering the HarbourCats’ second run — before an error by Palmer put Ellis on first. Ellis scored one pitch later when Schuknecht blasted a ball off the wall in left. Mello helped Kerns out to prevent Schuknecht from scoring one hitter later by ranging to his left, going to the ground to make the snag and throwing a blazing strike to get the third out at first.
Mello followed his great defensive play with a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh. After a sacrifice bunt from Palmer, Brock Slavin stroked a double to the left-center power alley. Then Andre Real blooped a double of his own down the right field line to plate Slavin and give the Sox a 6-3 lead.
“We stuck with it and Beau kept us in it,” Slavin said. “Hitting came around when we needed it, and clutch hits got the win for the Sox. It was fun.”
Slavin, who had been mired in a relative hitting slump, went 3-for-3 with a walk Monday.
The doubles from Slavin and Real tied and broke the team and West Coast League record for most doubles in the season. The Sox currently have 94 this season and have five league games remaining on the schedule.
“It’s nice to get the first one,” Knaggs said. “We just have to come out every day just like we did in the beginning. I mean every game is the same, but with the situation we’re in, they seem bigger.”
The AppleSox will have lefty C.J. Burdick throw tonight’s game against the HarbourCats.
“If he does what he’s been doing, we’re good there. He’s been a strike-throwing machine with pretty good stuff for a young man,” Knaggs said of Burdick. “He’s got some velocity working for him and not a lot bothers him.”
The Walla Walla Sweets won on Monday so Wenatchee did not gain any ground with its victory. The Sox and Sweets will face off only if it is necessary next Monday to make up a game that was rained out earlier this month.
“It’ll be fun and no matter what happens down the stretch, I’m really proud of what these guys have done and I think they’re still excited to come to the ball park every night,” Knaggs said.
NOTES: Pitcher Blake Phelps started in left field in Monday’s game. WCL rules stipulate that a player must appear in five league games to be eligible for postseason play, which explains the hurler’s uneasy half-inning appearance as a position player. … According to scorekeeper and local historian Bruce Bennett, the Sox went six years before their first rainout. There were two in three days last week.