WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee AppleSox gained the lead in their half of the second inning and never looked back on Saturday against the Everett Merchants, posting a 9-3 victory at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium.
All nine Wenatchee batters had a plate appearance in the second frame, with five Sox coming around to touch the plate.
It started when Everett starter Gunnar Swanson walked designated hitter Travis Fuller of Wenatchee Valley College. Fuller moved to third when catcher Eric Hutting hit a single to right field that the outfielder botched, allowing the catcher to reach second base. A sacrifice from right fielder Ryan Barr scored Fuller and moved Hutting to third. Centerfielder Brock Slavin, of Gonzaga, hit a single — one of four he hit in the contest — to plate Hutting. Slavin scored one hitter later when WVC third baseman Blake Raekes roped a double to left field. Raekes came around to touch home when the hero of Friday’s game, Stockton Taylor, hit a triple to the power alley in left-center field.
“Prior to that inning, I looked at (assistant) coach (Eric) Lane and said, ‘Man, it would be nice to put up a three-spot some time,’ and sure enough we got five,” AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs. “I just thought we swung the bats better. The pitcher was not that different than what we’ve seen, and I thought we had some guys that got out and put some really good swings on tonight that we haven’t really had the previous three games, that’s for sure. That was nice.”
It was undoubtedly the best game for AppleSox hitters all season, paced by Slavin and Taylor, who had two hits, scored two runs, had a stolen base and an RBI.
“I thought (Taylor) continued to swing the bat like he did last night,” Knaggs said. “He really put some good swings on the ball. He might end up being that guy to hit in the middle (of the batting order).”
The Sox also shut down the Merchants on the defensive end. Pitcher Stuart Patke threw seven strong innings, allowing only seven hits — more impressively, yielding just one walk — and two runs. The “big Texan,” as coach Knaggs referred to him, did not disappoint in his first start of the summer season.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I obviously haven’t seen him — I haven’t been down to Cisco, Texas. I’ve liked everything I’ve seen out of him as a guy, as a teammate,” Knaggs said about the righty. “It’s not easy; you’re a heck of a long ways away from home, you finally get to start, what are you going to do? I thought he did himself well.”
Patke’s defense backed him up effectively to ensure the Merchants didn’t get within striking distance of the comfortable lead Wenatchee built in the second inning. First baseman Jake Burl made two plays in which he left his feet to complete the out – one in the third and another in the sixth.
“Pretty athletic for a pitcher,” Knaggs said about the big righty who also takes the mound for the AppleSox.
Lars Rider of WVC entered the game in the eighth inning to close the game for the AppleSox. The hard throwing righty had a 1-2-3 frame in the eighth, striking out three of the six outs he recorded. He gave up a run in the ninth, but got right-fielder Ty Holm to lineout to Slavin to slam the door on Everett.
“Their pitchers threw pretty well. They were locating their fastballs,” Slavin said. “Team effort was awesome. Stewart threw a great game. Lars came in and finished it off and our defense played a great game all the way around.”
The AppleSox will conclude their two-game series against the Merchants today with a 1:05 start, when Davis Engle, a Central Washington Wildcat, takes the hill. Knaggs said that these non-league contests are good for the team because they can serve as a “breather” and allow him a little more leeway with his pitching staff.
Slavin said the key to completing the series sweep is making sure Wenatchee’s bats stay hot.
“We just need to come out and be aggressive like we were,” the centerfielder for Gonzaga said. “Jump on the fastball like we did, and stay through it, that should get it done.”
Wenatchee 3, Corvallis 2 (10)
The AppleSox found themselves in extra innings for the second time in their three-game series against Corvallis, but Taylor’s walk-off hit in the 10th frame gave the AppleSox a victory and series win over the Knights.
“That last at-bat (situation) had come up in the previous two games, so I was familiar with it, and the last two times I tried too hard and did too much in that situation and I grounded into two double plays,” Taylor said after the game. “This time I knew I needed to relax on my swing and I needed to focus on hitting the fastball and sitting on it and I did. I ended up making contact. (Nogosek) gave me the fastball right down the middle.”
It was a defensive struggle after the first inning, when the Knights jumped all over Wenatchee starter Beau Kerns, who just recently finished his sophomore year at WVC.
Kerns allowed only three runs, despite giving up 10 hits over six innings of work.
“The first inning wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be,” Kerns said. “Baseball is a weird game. All those hits were singles. If you’re not giving up too many balls over the head, a lot of those hits were kind of jammed off. They weren’t hit real hard or finding holes. And that’ll happen.”
Wenatchee awaits key players
Knaggs is facing the familiar challenge of guiding his team to early-season wins despite having a roster that will be changing for several weeks.
The team is currently carrying on its roster six ‘temporary players’ who signed short-term contracts to play with the team.
Wenatchee is expecting two infielders who play for UC Irvine — Connor Spencer and Grant Palmer — to arrive ready to join the team on Sunday, June 16. Spencer was UC Irvine’s top hitter as a sophomore, hitting .426 and starting every game. Palmer, a middle-infielder, hit .316.
UCLA outfielder, Brett Stephens, will be added to the AppleSox roster Monday. University of San Diego 6-foot-5 righty C.J. Burdick will arrive in North Central Washington on Saturday. He just finished his senior year of high school, where he had an 8-1 record and 0.72 ERA.
Jacob Palmer: @JPalmWW