On a hot, mid-90's evening at Elks Stadium, the Bellingham offense continued to cook with fire as they scored in each of the first four innings and jumped all over Kelowna early. Sandefur took the sizeable lead and ran with it- to the tune of a season-high 11 strikeouts to pick up his fourth win of the season. The Bellevue righthander retired the first eight hitters he faced in order and only a two-out walk in the third inning kept him from retiring the first 12 hitters in succession.
"They (Kelowna) are definitley a good squad," said Sandefur on the postgame show. "When our offense comes out and scores seven runs in the first four innings it definitely helps."
Bellingham scored single runs in the first through third innings, highlighted by an RBI single from Danny Miller (Chico State) and solo home runs from Colby Woodmansee (Arizona State) and Scott Heath (Maine). For Woodmansee it was his fourth round tripper of the season and for Heath, his third. The Bells would pad their lead in the fourth with four more runs, including RBI singles from Chris Baker (Washington) and Dustin Breshears (Gonzaga). Both Breshears and Woodmansee scored two runs in the first four innings, while Lou Della Fera (Maine) added a single and a double during the four-inning offensive outburst.
"Our offense is great. One through nine they hit well and have so much confidence," Sandefur said. "It really helps the pitcher when your offense scores runs behind them."
Kelowna lost for the sixth time in their past seven WCL games and added two runs in each of the fifth and eighth innings to turn a rout into a close contest. With the Bells leading 7-0 in the fifth, a one-out walk to Nick Minteer (Gonzaga) opened the door for Joshua Croft (San Jacinto College) who tripled into right field- the first hit off Sandefur through 4 1/3 innings. The Falcons would add another run to cut the Bellingham lead to 7-2 when Sandefur again took over until the eighth when he ran into trouble with two outs. That's when the Bells turned to their rock-steady bullpen for relief.
Mo Ceja (UCLA) came into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning in a jam- runners on first and third for the Falcons- and he got Brandon Grimsley (Murray State College) to pop out and end the inning. He then struck out two of the three hitters he faced in the bottom of the ninth inning with a deadly slider that he has been working on for the past few weeks with coach Clem. Ceja picked up his first save of the season.
"I asked UCLA head coach John Savage if we could develop it and he was very excited about," said Clem of Ceja's newly developed hard slider. "He was already very good without it- now that he has it, he's really tough out there."
With the victory, Bellingham moves to 22-6 overall in West Coast League play and will enter Saturday night's finale with a chance to sweep Kelowna for the second time this season. The Bells have swept four of their first nine series in league play and haven't lost a series since losing two of three to Bend from June 20-22. With the defeat, Kelowna falls to 8-21 in the West Coast League this season.
"Their after it again and we know that there's going to be a bump in the road now and again," Clem said. "But this run (14 wins in past 15 games in West Coast League play) has been remarkable. I can't tell you how unreal this run has been."
Matthew Moriarty (New Mexico State) found the sledding very sticky tonight against the Bellingham offense early on, as he fell to 0-3 this summer. He allowed six earned runs through his three innings of work, giving up seven hits, walking two and striking out three. The Bells offense jumped out early for the second straight night and took it to the home team Falcons early. Joshua Nuemberg (Southern Nevada) and Michael Gould (University of New Mexico) spun six innings of scoreless baseball for Kelowna, but the damage had already been done by the Bells with Moriarty on the hill.
"These guys strive for perfection," said Clem. "It's why their good. Everyday they come out and improve on the things they need to improve on and they pull together."
The hot temperatures only helped to keep the Bells bats firing, as they have now scored 21 runs with 31 hits through the first two games of this series with Kelowna. Bellingham collected 12 more hits tonight after pounding out 19 in last night's 16-11 victory.
"It's 90-95 degrees here and the dugouts are like an oven," said Clem. "The situations are unreal but the guys continue to play well."
Kelowna committed three more errors tonight, giving them seven through the first two games. Bellingham was stellar defensively, with several nice plays by Baker at third and Breshears at second. Della Fera and Miller also made nice running grabs in the outfield on several well-hit balls.
"These guys continue to impress," Clem said. "There's a lot of different ways to win a game. I think we've got a nice blend in this group- they can score, we can pitch and play defense."
Bellingham has now won 25 of their first 31 games overall and will take a 9 1/2 game lead with them over Victoria in the West Coast League West Division heading into Saturday's series finale with the Falcons.
"Im very proud of this group," said Clem. "It's not any one guy who is doing it all. They have all pulled together to support one another."
The third and final game of the series with Kelowna is set for 6:35pm PDT at Elks Stadium in Kelowna, B.C. on Saturday night. Dave Grant is back behind the mic with the play-by-play on AM 930 KBAI and online at 930kbai.com. The pregame show begins at 6:05pm PDT.