The Walla Walla Sweets reeled off runs when given the opportunity.
The Cowlitz Black Bears didn't, falling 9-3 to the Sweets in West Coast League baseball Saturday at David Story Field.
The loss erased the uplifting vibe from the Bears' first league victory, a 7-1 win over the Sweets just a day prior, and rekindled concerns about a lack of clutch hitting.
"In between their walks, we had bad at-bats," said Bears coach Bryson LeBlanc. "In between our walks ... they had good at-bats. That was the name of the game."
The dearth of timely hitting was painfully apparent in both the seventh and eighth innings, when the Black Bears (1-4) loaded the bases without scoring a run.
Down 9-3 in the seventh, the Bears seemed to be in prime position to break out offensively with the bases loaded and no outs. But Trent Zaks and Derek Atkinson struck out looking in back-to-back at-bats, and Billy Flamion ended the inning with an infield pop.
In the eighth, the Bears worked three walks around a double play to load the bases again — this time with two outs — but designated hitter Brent Graham grounded into a fielder's choice to douse any potential spark.
"It's tough as a coach to watch guys go down looking with the bases loaded," LeBlanc said. "It's tough as a coach to watch a guy slow his bat down with less than two strikes with (runners on) first and second and no outs. Swing and miss. Swing and miss and you're still standing at the plate. Now we have the double play (in the eighth), and we still ended up with the bases loaded.
"In between their free passes, we had six free runners and we don't put a good swing on the ball in the seventh and the eighth."
When given similar opportunities, Walla Walla (3-2) wasn't as timid. A half-inning before the Bears' first bases-loaded debacle in the seventh, the Sweets extended their lead from 5-3 to 9-3 by taking advantage of three hits, two walks, a hit batter and an error.
The Sweets also hit up Bears' starter Jeff Gold for four runs in the second inning, although LeBlanc found that quartet of runs less discouraging.
"Here's why I can handle the (second)," LeBlanc said. "In that inning, we only walked one guy and that guy doesn't even score."
Instead, the Sweets racked up five hits off Gold during their outburst. Gold, making his season debut after also pitching for the Black Bears in 2010, clamped down afterwards to keep Walla Walla hitless in the third and fourth."
There's a silver lining in that cloud for LeBlanc.
"It shows Jeff Gold's maturity," he said. "A year ago, he doesn't do that. A year ago, I don't know if he gets out of the second. So Jeff Gold did a great job."
Gold also saw a difference from this year and last season.
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"I'm better prepared, I guess," he said. "I have a sense of how to handle myself out there better."
Gold took the loss, allowing six hits and four runs over four innings. He struck out three and walked two. Richi Sandoval, another returner from the 2010 squad, also pitched well, allowing just one unearned run and striking out four in the final 2 2/3 innings.
Offensively, Spencer O'Neil was 2 for 3, and both Atkinson and Flamion were 2 for 5.
The Bears close out their three-game series against the Sweets at 5:05 p.m. today.
Walding plans to stick around despite high draft spot
It's just a part of life in the WCL that teams have to say goodbye to players who are taken in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
The Bears did so last year, bidding farewell to Tillman Pugh, who was taken in the 15th round by the New York Mets.
But this year's highest draftee - shortstop Mitchell Walding from St. Mary's High of Stockton in California - might not be going anywhere despite being selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 5th round.
"I talked to the Phillies, and they said they're going to watch me through the summer thing and depending on well I do (they'll make me an offer)," Walding said.
Walding said he could have gone in the second round, but made it clear to the teams interested in him at that spot that he wasn't willing to settle for second-round money (between $500-600,000). Instead the Phillies - along with the Red Sox and Twins, he said - expressed a willingness to offer more despite taking him later.
"The teams that could afford what I wanted, which is in the first-round kind of money, said, ‘We'll take you later on. We have to pay off the first-, second-, third- and fourth-round guys, but then we'll try and get you your money,'" Walding said.
He still isn't sure if he'll ultimately sign at all, and may opt to play at the University of Oregon, where he signed a letter of intent during the early signing period.
If anything changes, though, LeBlanc is just happy to have Walding as long as he can.
"As long as I'm fortunate to have him as a player, I ain't worried about anything," LeBlanc said.
Walding went 0 for 3 against the Sweets on Saturday, drawing three walks.