It was three batters into his start Tuesday evening, and Bear Braich already had given up three hits and given back a two-run lead, and was on the cusp of giving up a big inning.
And then, as suddenly as he found trouble, the Hanford pitcher washed it all away with a couple of strikeouts and a grounder.
Braich got out of the first inning without further damage, then put together four shutout frames and finished out the Flames 10-4 win over the Kennewick Bandits in the first game of a Central Washington League doubleheader at Southridge High.
“He just settled in and started throwing more offspeed stuff, more splitters,” said Hanford catcher Jake Browne.
The Bandits came back to take the second game 11-6 to forge a split of the Senior American Legion twinbill. At 7-3, Kennewick remains a game ahead of Hanford (6-4) in the CWL.
Conner O’Neil went 3-for-3 with a double to lead the Bandits’ 13-hit attack as Stetson Plew threw six innings to get the win on the mound.
Hanford got some unexpected pop from the back of its lineup in the opener and took advantage of some Kennewick wildness to hang seven runs on the board in the fifth.
No. 9 hitter Brennen Sutey’s solo shot over the left-field fence put Hanford back on top 3-2, and his RBI single two innings later was the beginning of the end for Kennewick starter Clayten Ayers.
After Hanford scored two runs in the top of the first without hitting a ball out of the infield, Ayers seemed to be in firm control. He set down nine of 10 batters heading into the fifth, but then allowed his first walk of the game. Two more would follow, along with a couple of singles.
The Falcons didn’t go easier on reliever Taylor Sanderson, with Isaac Benard lacing a two-run single into center and Trevor Jones a two-run double to the fence in left-center.
The 10-2 lead was plenty of cushion for Braich to push on through for the complete game, even giving up single runs in the sixth and seventh as his control slipped a bit.
“Stuff happens,” Braich said of that rocky first inning, that included Matt Mendenhall’s two-run double hammered in the right-center gap. “There’s seven innings, so you can’t get hung up on the first half of the first inning.”
After Trek Stemp, Cole Henderson and Mendenhall started the game with hits, the Bandits would get just two more the rest of the way, falling victim to Braich’s split-finger fastball.
“We hit the ball hard, hit line drives, they were just at guys,” Kennewick coach Bryan Winston said. “But he was able to throw the splitter for strikes, and make it look like a strike, and we chased.”
Both teams were sharp in the field, most noteably Bandits second baseman Brandon Pocasangre, who stole a couple of infield hits with some unconvential throws — the first an intentional one-hopper to first with his momentum carrying him the other way, and the second a glove toss to get a hustling Jones. He also robbed Ryan Neal with a diving stab while playing in with a runner on third in the sixth inning.
“Brandon plays great defense for us,” Winston said, “and he does that every day.”
Hanford 201 070 0 — 10 8 1
Kennewick 200 001 1 — 4 5 1
Bear Braich and Jake Browne; Clayten Ayers, Taylor Sanderson (5) and Garrett Wilz. Highlights—AJ Hoskins (H) 2B, R; Isaac Benard (H) 1x4, 3 RBI; Trevor Jones (H) 2-R 2B; Brennen Sutey (H) 2x3, HR, 2 RBI; Cole Henderson (K) 2x2, BB, HBP, R; Matt Mendenhall (K) 2-R 2B.
Hanford 000 303 0 — 6 11 1
Kennewick 035 003 x — 11 13 1
Jones, Kyle Lafon (5) and Browne, Austin Taylor (5); Stetson Plew, Sam Guin (7) and Dylan Maurer. Highlights—Hoskins (H) 3x5, 2B; Ryan Neal (H) 2x2; Austin Steele (H) 2x3; Henderson (K) 2x3; Mendenhall (K) 2x4, 2B; Jarod Gonzales (K) 2x3; Ayers (K) 2x3, 2B; Conner O’Neil (K) 3x3, 2B; JJ Hancock (K) 2x3.