WALLA WALLA — It was a pair of pitchers — Walla Walla Community College’s Jesse Houser and Treasure Valley’s Cody Mathews — that stole the show in an NWAACC baseball doubleheader on Wednesday.
Game one belonged to Houser, who spread two earned runs over more than eight innings of work in the Warriors’ 6-3 win.
Mathews was equally impressive in the nightcap, as he allowed only two hits and no earned runs over six innings to help the Chukars get revenge, 4-3.
The split helped Treasure Valley (17-5 overall, 8-2 in East Region) stay on top of the East Region, as the Warriors slid to third (15-5, 6-4).
Houser struggled through the first three innings, but turned it on from there. After allowing two runs on six hits through three, Houser scattered just two hits from the fourth inning through the eighth.
“I don’t know if he needs to stay in the bullpen longer to get loose or what,” WWCC coach Dave Meliah said jokingly. “He did kind of pick up his rhythm and tempo a little bit and that seemed to help him.”
“You’re trying to figure out the zone and where you can pound it at,” Houser added. “I did my best to figure it out. It was kind of rough the first three or four, but I toned myself down and figured it out.”
With a four-run lead heading into the top of the ninth, Houser was eager to finish his gem. Meliah and the coaching staff were hesitant, but obliged their righty and watched him promptly strike out the first batter he saw.
But after Treasure Valley’s next batter, Tommy LaMue, served a Houser pitch back into center field, Meliah made the switch to reliever A.J. Carkner. Carkner then clinched the final two outs to preserve the win for Houser.
“He really wanted to finish it,” Meliah said of Houser. “I know he was disappointed he couldn’t get those last two outs. He stepped up over the last five, six innings. That’s probably his best performance of the year.”
The Warrior offense also helped Houser, as WWCC tied the game in the bottom of the third inning on an RBI single by Jake Browne. After an error brought in J.J. Robinson later in the inning, Walla Walla found itself up 3-2.
But the Warriors weren’t done there, as Robinson added to the lead in the fifth. With leadoff hitter Seth Wolfe standing on second after a double, Robinson sent a 1-2 pitch towering over the right-field fence to give the Warriors a 5-2 lead.
“J.J. has a lot of power when he doesn’t swing for it,” Meliah said. “That guy left a change up or curveball — left it up — and J.J. (put) the barrel to ball.”
After finishing with six runs on 10 hits in the opener, the Walla Walla hitters were rather baffled for six innings against Mathews in game two.
The Treasure Valley lefty wasn’t a power pitcher by any means — as he finished with only one strikeout — but his ability to change speeds and locate his pitches kept the Warriors guessing.
“Give him credit,” Meliah said of Mathews, “he mixed speeds, kept us off balance. It was all him. Luckily, we had a couple innings there where we got his pitch count up to get him out of there. But he threw well.”
Houser, who started in right field and batted in the leadoff spot, finished 0-of-2 with three walks against his game two counterpart.
“We’re used to seeing 85, 86 (mph) and that guy comes in (at) 77, 78,” Houser said. “You’ve just got to get your weight back and think opposite field.”
The Warriors appeared to be more comfortable with the Treasure Valley relievers, as Walla Walla cut the lead to one in the bottom of the eighth. After Robinson came home on a Chukar throwing error, Corey Morris brought in Browne with a single to right center field.
After a scoreless top of the ninth, Walla Walla had the tying run on second in Cody Price, but Treasure Valley’s Brady Baker induced a strikeout and a fly out to end the game.
“I never look at losses as positives, but we fought,” Meliah said. “We gave ourselves a chance and that’s all you can ask.”
The Warriors got an outstanding performance from reliever Levi Rudolph after he entered the game in a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the first inning. With the Chukars already holding a 3-0 lead, Rudolph fanned the first batter he saw to end the inning.
From there, Rudolph was in the zone. He finished the final eight innings without allowing an earned run and struck out five.
“He was outstanding,” Meliah said of Rudolph. “Baseball can be as hard as you make it or as easy as you make it. For pitching, it all comes down to just throwing strikes and letting your defense make plays. Levi did a great job of that.”
The Warriors host a doubleheader with Blue Mountain on Saturday.
Article by Alex Field of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin