Merchant leads slide away

At 0-16, leads have been few and far between for the Whidbey Merchants this summer.

But things were different Sunday afternoon.

The local 18 and older baseball team fought from behind to grab two leads in game one of its doubleheader with Bellingham and jumped out to a four-run advantage in the first inning of game two.

Simply going ahead of the Shockers wasn’t enough in either contest, however, as a series of errors, walks and wild pitches eventually led to two more defeats, 25-12 and 23-8.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the hitting of the other teams,” Merchant player/manager Walt Bankowski said. “We have good pitching, like I’ve said before, but the other teams’ hitters are so good they always seem to get us in the end.”

That was the case in game one on Sunday.

After trailing 5-2 in the top of the third, Whidbey rallied for four runs in the bottom half of the inning for its first lead, 6-5.

Key RBI singles from Brett Barker and Tim Shelley along with a two-RBI single from number-nine hitter Keith Ross put the Merchants over the hump.

Ross went 4-for-5 on the day, with five RBI, a triple, two doubles and a single.

“I’ve really been frustrated with my hitting the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I really tried concentrating on using the whole field and specifically right field as opposed to pulling the ball, and I think that made the difference for me.”

After allowing Bellingham to tie the game in the fourth, Whidbey retook the lead, 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single to center from Milt Campbell.

The Shockers didn’t lay down, however.

In the seventh, Bellingham used one walk, one hit batter and four errors to put eight runs on the board.

Whidbey showed heart in the bottom of the inning, rallying for five runs of its own, but were still behind 14-12.

Bellingham continued to pour it on in the eighth and ninth, however, as the Merchants defense collapsed.

Whidbey lost flyball after flyball in the glaring sun, allowing five runs in the eighth and six more in the ninth.

“I think I counted five lost balls in the sun,” Bankowski said. “It was painful to watch.”

Game two started out well, as the Merchants scored four runs in the top of the first inning.

Pete Aguirre led off with a double, followed by an RBI double from Trey Pridgen, a sacrifice from Ned Betts, and singles from Barker and Shelley. Rich Cline then ripped a double to right field to give the Merchants a 4-0 lead.

Poised again for the first win, the Merchants shut down the Shockers in their half, giving up only a walk.

Following a similar script from the entire season, the Shockers settled down and shut down the Merchants in the next four innings, giving up just two hits and two walks.

The Bellingham hitters also found their mark, putting together seven hits, two walks, and two errors to score 10 runs in two innings, taking the lead 10-4.

The Shockers added four more runs and led 14-4 after five innings.

Whidbey mounted a comeback in the top of the sixth inning, loading the bases on two walks and a single. Jake Hall then launched a double, scoring two runs. Ross followed with a single, scoring two more and making the score 14-8. The Shockers, however, added seven more in the bottom half of the sixth and the 10-run rule was in effect as the score reached 21-8.

Barker led the way with three hits and an RBI. Hall, Cline, and Ross all had one hit and two RBI.

Whidbey closes out the regular season with a doubleheader at 10 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 7 at Anacortes. They will then enter the league tournament the following week.

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