Pippins Clinch WCL North First-Half Title in Win Over Sweets

Teams combine for four home runs in shootout

The Yakima Valley Pippins punched their ticket to the 2021 West Coast League playoffs by clinching first place in the North Division with a win over the Walla Walla Sweets Monday.

Blake Dickman broke open the tied game in the top of the eighth inning with a two-run home run and Connor Coballes scored on a wild pitch in the ninth with the bases loaded to help the Pippins to a 6-3 victory.

The Pippins jumped on Sweets starter Jacob Dahlstrom early, with Chaz Myers and Coballes singling and Sam Olsson walking to load the bases to start the game. Blake Dickman singled to left to score Myers and give the Pippins an early 1-0 lead.

The Sweets responded in the bottom half as Parker Price singled with one out off Pippins starter Seth Kuykendall before Seth Ryberg homered to right field to take a 2-1 lead.

The Pippins sent just six batters to the plate over the next two innings, but Mason Marenco walked with one out in the fourth before Alex Shanks hit his first home run of the season to re-take the lead, 3-2.

Dahlstrom (0-1, 4.50 ERA) did not go back out for a fifth inning, but he was let off the hook for the loss when William Grimm hit a home run to right field to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning, tying the game 3-3.

James Hepp (0-0, 4.00 ERA) was brought on in the fifth inning and pitched three scoreless, allowing two hits while striking out three and walking one.

Kuykendall settled in after the home run in the fourth, facing 10 batters over the next three innings to turn in his third quality start of the season. He was aided by Dickman throwing out his first base runner of the season when Justin Folz tried to swipe second base to end the sixth inning.

Kuykendall (1-2, 3.03 ERA) gave up three earned runs in his seven innings of work, striking out a season-high seven batters without issuing a free pass. He was the pitcher of record when the Pippins added two runs in the eighth to take the lead. 

Logan Hurd came on to pitch the final two innings for Walla Walla, and Noah Williamson greeted him with a laser to left field that nailed the fence on the fly and got lodged behind a sponsor banner, limiting him to a double.

That set the stage for Dickman’s towering shot to left field that was controversial because it curled and landed left of the foul pole – with the umpires left to decide whether it went foul before or after it crossed the fence. The home plate umpire gave a delayed call on the field, and the umpires discussed it after, ultimately agreeing that the ball was fair.

Landon Schirer was brought in for his third six-out save in as many appearances and shut down the Sweets offense in the eighth despite hitting one batter.

The Pippins added an insurance run in the ninth after loading the bases with one out when Coballes reached on an error, Olsson singled and Williamson walked. A pitch to Dickman got past Sweets catcher Colin Wetterau, allowing Coballes to score.

Schirer allowed a walk to start the ninth before retiring the next two batters. Jack Sheward reached on an error by Connor Coballes, but pinch-hitter lined out to Williamson in left to end the game. Schirer (0-0, 1.50 ERA) is now 3-for-3 in save opportunities.

This is the fourth year the Pippins will make a playoff appearance, but the first time they have done so by winning the first half.

The Pippins and Sweets continue their series through Wednesday, and the Pippins return home Friday to start the second half with a series against Bellingham.

By Chris Rosato Jr.

July 6, 2021