Pippins Prevent Sweep With Early Offense, Strong Pitching

Lajoie homers, Kuykendall delivers quality start in win

The Yakima Valley Pippins rode a two-run home run by Willie Lajoie and a quality start by Seth Kuykendall to win 2-1 in the series finale in Cowlitz Sunday afternoon to avoid getting swept.

Lajoie’s home run came with two outs and Blake Dickman on first base and traveled 332 feet to left field without any discernible wind at David Story Field to give the Pippins a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

Brock Bozett returned the favor in the bottom half of the inning, hitting a line drive to left field that cleared the fence in almost the same spot as Lajoie’s hit to cut the lead to 2-1. Neither team would score again after that.

Kuykendall turned in seven innings after the leadoff home run, allowing just two other hits while walking two and striking out five. At one point, Kuykendall (2-2, 3.10 ERA) retired 12 straight batters on his way to the win.

After Lajoie’s home run, the Pippins walked twice but wouldn’t notch another hit against Cowlitz starter Izaak Martinez until the sixth inning, when Dickman led off the inning with a grounder through the left side of the infield. He would move to second on a wild pitch and to third on a ground ball out, but was left there.

Liam Hatakenaka made his debut for the Black Bears, entering in the seventh inning. Mason Marenco welcomed him to the West Coast League with a triple that bounced off the outfield wall in dead center. Center fielder Johnny Radomsky had some trouble tracking it down to the wall, and it bounced off the wall and rolled towards the infield, allowing Marenco enough time to race around to third.

A left-handed sidewinder, Hatakenaka was really brought into the game to face the only left-hander in the Pippins lineup, Austin Plante, who struck out swinging, and Hatakenaka’s day was done.

The Black Bears then turned to Carter Sutton, who induced a groundout before striking out Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek to strand Marenco on third base.

Keegan Wright pitched the eighth inning for Cowlitz, allowing a one-out base hit but maintaining the same score.

Landon Schirer was called upon by the Pippins for his fifth six-out save in as many chances, and made things interesting. He allowed a one-out single before walking Dawson Martin, and the Black Bears executed their second double steal of the game to put runners on second and third.

Schirer struck out Matthew Schwarz but hit Sean Mulcare to load the bases with two outs. Jaden Sheppard worked a full count, but he struck out looking on the eighth pitch of his at-bat to end the threat.

Mark Woinarowicz pitched the ninth inning for Cowlitz for the second night in a row and took after Schirer, loading the bases with two outs before striking out Spencer Marenco to keep the score the same.

Schirer had a much quieter ninth inning, allowing a one-out walk before striking out the next two batters to lock down the save and help the Pippins avoid getting swept.

The Pippins improved to 18-12 in West Coast League play, 3-3 in the second half, while the Black Bears fell to 12-15 and 2-1, respectively.

The Pippins will take Monday off before returning home to host the Bend Elks on another Toyota Tuesday Family Night Out, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

By Chris Rosato Jr.

July 19, 2021