WEST VALLEY - With the Selah Vikings supposedly rebuilding this year, the West Valley Rams were stamped as the Mid-Valley League favorites heading into the spring baseball season.
Despite the tag as the pre-season choice to win top honors in conference play, the Rams had to scrap for all they were worth to get by Sunnyside last Saturday. West Valley claimed a 5-0 shutout in the opener, then rallied late in the nightcap to eke out a 4-3 victory.
"I'm real proud of the kids," Sunnyside Coach Dave Martinez said of his Grizzlies. "The kids played really well."
The game plan in Saturday's opener was to not take any fastball strikes from West Valley ace Kevin Walkenhauer, and to go opposite field when he served up his slider. And for the most part, the Grizzlies did what they set out to do.
"We were putting the ball into play," said Martinez, explaining that up until the fifth frame Walkenhauer had only retired a few Grizzly batters on strikes.
Walkenhauer did strike out the side in the fifth, "But I think that was because we were pressing, knowing we were running out of time to score," Martinez said.
Walkenhauer ended up going the distance to pick up the two-hit, 5-0 win. The two hits he gave up were a third inning double to Gibby Briones and a seventh inning single to Diego Burgueno.
The Rams, it turned out, scored the only runs they would need in the bottom of the first, when they pushed three across the plate. Senior Timmy Briones, who got the first game start atop the mound, got off to a shaky start by issuing three walks in the opening frame. He also yielded two first inning doubles. Briones settled down after that, giving up just one more run before being relieved with two outs in the fourth inning.
In game two, Sunnyside snapped a 2-2 tie by plating a single run in the top of the fifth. Walkenhauer, converted to shortstop in the nightcap, committed two errors in the inning, which set up Timmy Briones' bases loaded, four-pitch walk.
West Valley countered with a run of its own in the bottom half of the fifth, thanks to two Grizzly errors, to square things back up again at 3-3. The Rams plated the winning run in the bottom of the sixth, due chiefly to Sunnyside committing its fourth error of the game.
West Valley started out game two by grabbing a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Grizzlies tied it at two-all in the top of the third on senior Joel Zakahi's second homer of the season.
Zakahi got the nod as Sunnyside's starting pitcher in the twin bill finale. A pair of West Valley singles and an error by the Grizzly left fielder made both of the Rams' first inning runs unearned. West Valley's single tally off Zakahi in the fifth was also unearned.
Ryan Engel (0-2) absorbed the loss when the Rams scored an unearned run in the sixth.
Sunnyside (0-4, 1-7-1) has two non-league games scheduled for this Tuesday (3 p.m.) and Wednesday (11 a.m.) against visiting Rochester. The Grizzlies jump back into Mid-Valley League play with a doubleheader at Ellensburg this coming Saturday.
"A sweep against Ellensburg fixes everything," said Martinez. "We'd be right back in it."