WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee AppleSox hung onto first-place of the division against the plucky Bellingham Bells on Thursday, but it didn’t appear that would be the end-result for most of the game.
The Sox offense sputtered for the first six innings, scoring only one run despite amassing five hits. But when the Bells made a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth with a 3-2 lead, the Wenatchee bats came to life.
All-star first baseman Connor Spencer led off the frame with a double that was absolutely crushed to right field on a 1-2 curveball. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Andre Real went the other way for a single.
“We were playing for just one run,” AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs said after the game. “Turned out we got more.”
Bellingham reliever Jake Ehret faced only those two hitters before getting pulled. But his replacement, Will Dennis, didn’t fare much better.
Dennis walked the first two hitters he faced before giving up a double, which was a hard hit ground ball by Eric Hutting that went over the shortstop’s head because the Bells defense was trying to cut off the run at home. The groundball eventually made it to the wall because the Bellingham left fielder over-ran the still-scooting ball on the ground, allowing Hutting to take third and three Sox players to score. Brett Stephens then drove a double of his own to the left field wall to plate the catcher from Long Beach State.
“It was just crazy how we were swinging the bat,” Knaggs said. “And they weren’t going to bring another guy in and waste him.”
But the Sox weren’t done scoring yet: After Joe Mello flew out and Ryan Barr was caught stealing, Brock Slavin was hit by a pitch and scored on Spencer’s second double of the stanza.
“I was just trying to hit the ball as hard as I could,” Spencer said. “Offense had been a struggle, so it was nice to see us break out a little bit.”
Spencer scored one hitter later when Kramer Ferrell, who pinch-ran for Real earlier in the inning slapped a double down the left field line. Ferrell scored on the next pitch, which Joey Jansen nubbed to the third baseman, who promptly delivered the ball to the away dugout trying to throw out the speedy Jansen. When it was all said and done, the AppleSox had scored nine runs on eight hits and had established a 11-3 lead.
“We’re fortunate to win that game,” Knaggs said. “Hopefully we can use it to take the series-win.”
The Sox pitchers threw well again as starter Blake Phelps allowed only five hits and two earned runs. The pitcher from Community Colleges of Spokane also had five strikeouts and remained composed despite a lack of run support.
“He did a nice job again,” Knaggs said about Phelps. “They didn’t get very good swings off of him. … He did a nice job of giving us a chance.”
Houston Hibberd came out of the bullpen and threw 3 2/3 strong frames. After inheriting runners from Phelps in the sixth, he faced only nine batters over the next three innings to slam the door on the Bells.
“I was expecting a tight game, I was expecting that mentally, but after we put up nine, it was pretty easy to go up there and relax and throw strikes,” Hibberd said. “With nine runs, you’re just playing baseball out there, you don’t have to think about anything else.”
The Walla Walla Sweets also won Thursday, so the tie between the Sweets and Sox remains. But the victory could loom large later in the schedule because Bellingham was only 1/2 game back before the contest. Wenatchee will look to extend its lead in the standings over the Bells tonight at 7:05 p.m. with Jake Bruml on the mound.
Bruml will have his innings limited because he’s already had a somewhat burdensome workload over the spring and summer.
“We’re taking it easy on him,” Knaggs said. “He’s thrown too many innings in the spring. So we’ll give him a short start.”
Wins will come at a premium from here on out for the AppleSox as the team has only four WCL series remaining after the conclusion of this one.
“We’ll have to get after it early, get something offensive going,” Knaggs said. “Because what we did late tonight, does not happen much. But, it’s going to be exciting down the stretch.”