WALLA WALLA — The Wenatchee AppleSox were clearly unimpressed by the five-game home win-streak the Walla Walla Sweets had going into Wednesday’s playoff matchup.
The Sox clinched a spot in the West Coast League Championship series against the Corvallis Knights by completing a two-game sweep over the Sweets with a 6-2 win at Borleske Stadium.
“I’m excited for these guys to continue on and keep the summer going and do some exciting things,” AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs said after the game in a phone interview. “Being able to rematch with (2012 WCL runner-up) Corvallis is neat. We played very well in these two games.”
Wenatchee’s starters were effective on consecutive nights and the shorthanded AppleSox lineup got timely hits and scored crucial runs late in the game to make a Walla Walla comeback a daunting task.
C.J. Burdick, a lanky righty who just graduated high school, threw seven innings — he struck out seven without allowing a walk.
“Thankfully we came out on top and played another game without using many arms — arms that we don’t really have anyway,” Knaggs said.
The Sox’s lineup is limited because several players have already left for school. But the group that remains put in another strong offensive performance paired with an errorless day in the field.
Wenatchee jumped on top early as the AppleSox scored in the first inning when Connor Spencer’s single plated leadoff hitter Brett Stephens.
The team added another in the fourth when center fielder Brock Slavin, Spencer and Stockton Taylor all reached to force a bases-loaded, no out situation. Joey Jansen grounded into a double play, but that was good enough to plate Slavin.
Burdick’s only blemish came in the bottom half of the fourth when John Skrbec blasted a two-run home run to tie the game 2-2.
“Maybe our only error was a mix up when Skrbec came up. (Pitching) coach (A.J.) Proszek told (catcher Joey Harris that Skrbec is) a pull guy, and (pitch) away from him,” Knaggs said. “Joey thought he said to pitch him in and the guy yanked one over the wall.”
The AppleSox plated a pair in the top of the sixth to retake the lead. After a Grant Palmer groundout, Slavin hit a single and Spencer hit a double, then Taylor hit a double of his own to plate Slavin. Taylor scored three pitches later on a wild pitch that trickled to the backstop to give the Sox a 4-2 lead.
Burdick proved that you don’t have to be experienced to be tough in the bottom of the seventh, when Jarod Gonzales blasted a ball right back at the pitcher, hitting him on the foot. The ball was hit so hard it went down the first base line and Gonzales reached second.
“As soon as I got hit, my foot went numb and I couldn’t put a lot of weight on it so I just sat down and tried to regroup,” Burdick said.
The soon-to-be San Diego Torero recovered by striking out the next Walla Walla batter and ended the inning by inducing a fly out to center.
“I told him we don’t need a hero right now, but (Burdick) said, ‘Coach I feel good,’ ” Knaggs said. “He came up with a huge strikeout.”
Knaggs described the two runs the AppleSox scored in the ninth as “huge.” Nate Steffler reached on a walk, then Stephens hit a double after a pitching change. Palmer brought Steffler home on a single and Stephens eventually scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-2.
Spencer, who finished second for the batting title, was intentionally walked in the ninth because he was 4-for-4 going into the frame.
“Connor, boy, he’s just been so good,” Knaggs said. “It’s hard to do, to play the game daily and to hit like he has.”
Houston Hibberd loaded the bases by walking two and hitting a third in the bottom of the ninth before inducing a double play to end the game and the Sweets’ season.
“It was a tough environment,” Knaggs said.
Wenatchee will welcome the South Division-winning Corvallis Knights to Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium on Saturday for the first game of the WCL Championship Series.
Davis Engel — a temporary player who earned a full-time spot — will pitch the opener of the best two-out-of-three series.
The Knights are the best team in the WCL at stealing bases, so keeping their hitters off of the basepaths will be a focus for the Sox, according to Knaggs.
“They can’t steal first,” Knaggs said.
The team will have a couple days off before playing again, and Knaggs would like to see his team finish the year strong.
“It’s exciting to come out and do what we did,” the skipper said. “I thought it was a difficult task and our guys were up to the challenge. We played some good baseball and now we’re moving on, and now we’ll give our fans another home game.”