WENATCHEE — Despite a pair of brothers’ best efforts, the Wenatchee AppleSox clinched its sweep of the Victoria HarbourCats on Wednesday.
On the strength of a seven-run third inning, the Sox held serve with the Walla Walla Sweets — which capped a sweep of its own yesterday — to keep a share of first-place of the North Division. Victoria’s Schuknecht brothers were responsible for batting in all of the Cats’ runs as Wenatchee took an 8-4 victory.
“Thankfully we dropped a seven-bomb on them and that was good enough,” AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs said. “It’s exciting, I would not have guessed we would sweep these guys before the series with six to play. We did just enough and it’s pretty exciting.”
For the first time in the series the Sox struck first, because HarbourCats starter Joe Navilhon struggled to find the strike zone. In the bottom of the second, the Victoria hurler walked Joey Harris after getting the first two outs of the frame. Then the pitcher from Cal Fullerton hit Nate Steffler and walked Brett Stephens to load the bases. Joe Mello pulled a single to right to plate Harris, but Steffler was gunned down at the plate to end the inning.
“They walked a couple guys, and walks will kill you,” right fielder Ryan Barr said.
Wenatchee provided starter Stuart Patke with more than enough run support in the third. Grant Palmer led off the stanza with a double down the left field line and scored on a Connor Spencer single that eluded the outreached glove of the first baseman Chris Lewis. Barr then slapped a base hit to right on which he reached second when Victoria right fielder John Schuknecht misplayed the rolling ball, which also allowed Spencer to move to third. Then, Lewis flubbed a putout at first to allow Joey Jansen to reach and Spencer to score.
Navilhon surrendered consecutive singles to Harris and Steffler — each plating a run as the third continued. Harris scored on a wild pitch from the struggling Victoria starter, who gave up a towering home run to dead center by Stephens — the future UCLA Bruin’s fourth long fly of the summer — one pitch later.
“What I remember is the bomb the young kid hit,” Knaggs said after the game. “You don’t see balls go out (to center), especially off his bat, that was hit well, but man, going over the center field needs to be a ball that’s hit very well.”
The Cats then walked three straight Sox to load the bases, but a questionable called third-strike on Barr ended the frame — which marked the third time the AppleSox have scored at least seven runs in an inning this season.
“Going up 8-0, you relax a little bit and feel good and evidently we relaxed a little bit,” Knaggs said. “Didn’t score much after that, or any after that.”
David and John Schuknecht had four RBI over the last five innings of the game — David hit two home runs and John had a double that one-bounced the wall. In the seventh, John hit a two-run home run off of Patke. After the dinger, Patke gave up a walk, a single and hit a batter to load the bases. Blake Phelps relieved the tall Texan and was the beneficiary of center fielder Brock Slavin making an incredible play on a ball that could’ve cleared the bases if it hadn’t have been caught by the Gonzaga Bulldog.
Despite the rough seventh, Patke did have a relatively sharp outing in his last appearance as an AppleSox player. Patke surrendered only four hits over 6 2/3 frames. Patke is not known for having overpowering stuff, but did induce 14 groundouts.
“That’s what we’re told — to pound the zone, get ground balls, fly outs, outs in any way we can,” Patke said. “Anything you can do to help the team get the win, that’s all that matters.”
The Sox now have a day off before their final three-game series in Kelowna. Wenatchee will have Davis Engel on the mound in the series opener on Friday.
“The day off is hopefully a good day off for us,” Knaggs said. “Hopefully nothing weird happens, we get a little bit of rest and we get up to Kelowna and fight like heck, and hopefully we win some games up there.”
NOTES: The AppleSox recognized their host families, as is a last home game tradition, before the contest. … After throwing 1 1/3 innings, Phelps is now eligible for postseason play. He needed to appear in five regular season league games to make the playoff roster — per WCL rules.
The playoff picture
Wenatchee’s “magic number” is now two, which means if the team wins two games or if the Bellingham Bells lose two — or any combination of those scenarios — the AppleSox will be in playoffs. The same situation applies to the Sweets.
Bellingham, which is three games back from a spot in the postseason, welcomes Victoria for a home game before going to Canada to play a three-game series against the HarbourCats.
The Sweets have a three-game set to conclude their regular season schedule in Bend. The Elks are currently in second-place in the South Division at 30-21 — a mark that would put the team atop the North’s standings.
Walla Walla and the AppleSox will make up the game that was rained out last week here on Monday if it is necessary. So, if the Sweets and Sox have similar finishes to their respective seasons, the teams will play at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium to determine seeding or which team makes the playoffs if the Bells go on a tear to end the season.
(Hat tip to scorekeeper and local historian Bruce Bennett).
Key players bid farewell
Wednesday night’s contest was the last Mello, Barr and Patke will play for the AppleSox this summer.
Barr and Patke have to go to their respective schools, and Mello — who made the abrupt move in the middle of the summer — made the decision because he needs to drive to California to gather his things and move to Lewis-Clark State. Also, Mello does not have a Passport, so he would have to sit out the final series in Kelowna anyway.
All three players expressed their regret that they will have to miss the conclusion of the season.
“It was great. I loved playing up here,” Barr said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team, we all got along super well. I talked to other teams and they kind of had groups, I didn’t feel that way on this team at all, we all got along, we all did things together. I think that helped us play on the field better. As far as Wenatchee, the people were very nice and the host families were great. I couldn’t ask for a better summer.”
Patke, who hails from Texas, said his first period outside of the southwest was a worthy one.
“It’s been a great experience,” Patke said. “I love it up here. It’s a long way from home. But I’ve had a great time with all the players and the coaches have taught me a lot.”
Mello joined the team when it was struggling to find an offensive identity, and the gritty shortstop instantly gave the Sox a jolt upon his arrival.
“I’ve been trying to do what I can to help the team win, and it’s paid off,” Mello said. “We’re tied for first-place and I wish the team good luck with the playoffs.”
Knaggs said that losing important pieces at this point of the season is common in summer leagues like the West Coast League.
“It puts every team in a tough spot because guys need to go to school. You’re not going to hold them, that’s what they need to do,” the skipper said. “It’s like when injuries happen, you put the next guy in there, and a lot of the time, guys step up.”
Steffler will have to be one of those guys who elevates his play as he will take the role of the everyday shortstop. Joey Jansen will assume the vacancy in the outfield.
Barr’s double record
Some in the crowd were hoping that Barr’s single in the third would have been ruled a double, which would’ve given the outfielder sole possession of the WCL single-season record for two-baggers. But the Victoria right fielder made an error on the play to allow the Portland Pilot to reach second.
“I was definitely hoping (the scorekeeper) would give me some leeway,” Barr said. “It was a tough hop, it didn’t touch his glove. It’s one of those things where it could’ve gone either way because it was the field, but that ball should’ve been caught.”
Barr finished his WCL season with 18 doubles, which ties Tyler Christian’s mark from 2011 with Bend.