WENATCHEE — Eric Hutting had been hitting the ball hard all Saturday night against the Kitsap BlueJackets, but the Wenatchee AppleSox catcher was only 1-for-4 entering his at-bat in the bottom of the 10th inning.
That’s when the right-handed hitter from Long Beach State ripped a ground ball to the six-hole that Kitsap third baseman Andy Lack couldn’t field cleanly, plating the winning run, which gave the Sox a 2-0 series lead. The 4-3 win at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium puts Wenatchee back at .500 at 7-7.
“He’d been a bad-luck guy all night, he was swinging the bat pretty well,” AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs said after the game. “I went to him three hitters before and said, ‘I have a hunch you’re going to have to win this one, try not to hit it to somebody.’ He did, but he smoked it; that is a tough play. It’s neat for him after having a tough-luck day to come up with that.”
Wenatchee’s extra-inning rally started when Austin Bartleson drew a walk on a full count. Bartleson moved to second when Ty Donahou balked, taking the double play out of play and forcing the BlueJackets to intentionally walk Ryan Barr. After a Stockton Taylor flyout to center moved Bartleson to third, Hutting stepped into the box looking to end the game.
“I was basically going up there, trying to see a fastball anywhere in the zone where I could get good barrel on the ball,” Hutting said. “(I was) trying to be aggressive and put a good swing on it. I hit three balls hard today, and finally the last one got through, but that was the one that counted.”
The BlueJackets were the first to strike: In the opening frame, leadoff hitter Danny Sheehan started the second game in a row by slapping a single to left field. Sheehan eventually scored when second baseman Andre Real committed an error on what should’ve been a routine ground ball.
“Andre struggled at second base tonight,” Knaggs said. “(Real) hasn’t played a lot (in the field, mostly assuming the designated hitter role). They hit it right at us and we didn’t make a play on it. He had a rough night. It wasn’t his normal night at the plate, and he had a tough one in the field and those happen. Good thing is he gets back out there tomorrow and he can try to do better.”
Real — who leads the team in home runs and runs batted in — finished 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a walk.
But, the AppleSox answered right back in their half of the first as the first two hitters — Brett Stephens and Grant Palmer — hit singles off of Kitsap starter Ryan Taylor, and Washington State University standout Jason Monda brought Stephens home by powering a double down the right field line. Despite the hot start on offense, Wenatchee’s bats went quiet after Monda’s double, and even with an error by the third baseman, the Sox couldn’t muster more than one run in the frame.
“We certainly had them by the throat in the first inning, and we didn’t step on them at all,” Knaggs said. “If someone said you’re going to have three hits — one’s a double — and you get an error, how many are you going to score? You wouldn’t guess one. I thought that was kind of pivotal.”
Monda gave up his first earned run of the season in the top of the fourth, when Kitsap right fielder Francisco Torres drove a first-pitch fastball well over 360 feet to left-center field for a solo home run. Real committed his second error of the game on a Connor Jones groundball, and after a Justin Gheorghe single and a strikeout, Monda’s day was done with just 3 1/3 innings in the books.
“We knew Jason was only going to go to a point there,” Knaggs said, referencing his plan to throw Monda a maximum of five innings. “That was his time.”
Washington State teammate Chris McDowell entered the game to relieve Monda, who was charged with the run when Dustin Dhanani plated Jones on a groundout, running the BlueJackets lead to 3-1.
That lead stood until the bottom of the eighth, when Kitsap reliever Danny Thomson, a Princeton man, struggled. Thomson walked Connor Spencer to lead off the frame. Jake Bruml then got his second hit of the day when he took the hard-throwing Thomson to the opposite field for a single. Then, Barr ripped a double down the right foul line to score Spencer and Bartleson, who was in the game to pinch run for Bruml. Barr was thrown out trying to stretch a triple. Thomson was then taken out of the game — recording just one out — for Cole Volkers, who ended the inning.
Most of Kitsap’s pitchers threw with plenty of velocity, but that didn’t deter the AppleSox from getting 10 hits.
“Hard throwers don’t really scare anybody,” Hutting said. “(You) just have to get your foot down and see the ball.”
The Wenatchee bullpen threw well, not allowing a run after the fourth inning. Between McDowell and Houston Hibberd, AppleSox relievers allowed only three hits and five baserunners, which gave the Sox lineup a chance to come back and win the game.
“We ran some pretty good guys out there, and guys are following each other up with pretty good performances,” Knaggs said.
The AppleSox now look to complete their first series sweep of the season at 6:05 p.m. tonight, when Davis Engle — a Central Washington Wildcat — will take the mound.
“Hopefully we can play well,” Knaggs said. “(Kitsap is) going to try to get one back. Another night out that you hope you prepare well enough to take the win.”
Jacob Palmer: @JPalmWW