Not since 2012 has Bellingham won a playoff game. Not anymore. The Bells scored first and rode the arms of Erives (Arizona State) and Ludwig (Belmont Univeristy) to victory on Tuesday night at Yakima County Stadium in Yakima, WA in the opener of the West Coast League Divisional Playoffs. The Pippins could not solve the Erives riddle for the second consecutive time, as the Sun Devil righty mixed speeds well and kept Yakima Valley off-balance all night long. He went 6.1 innings, allowing only three hits and an earned run with six strikeouts and three walks. Ludwig was straight up filthy, working 2.2 scoreless inning with five strikeouts and no hits allowed. The southpaw used a nasty combination of sliders, curveballs and fastballs to keep the Pippins bats silent.
“He was his usual self tonight,” said Bells pitching coach Jim Clem of Erives. “Eder has been so good for us all season long and tonight it was a perfect ending to his Bells season.”
Erives started his final game this season for Bellingham, as he moved to a perfect 7-0 this year for the Bells. Tuesday may have been his most magical, facing a Yakima Valley offense that leads the West Coast League in on-base percentage. Erives pitched well against the Pippins earlier this season and continued his mastery of the Yakima Valley lineup on Tuesday night. Ludwig was his usual feisty self, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth inning to pick up the save.
“Dan mixes his pitches so well,” Clem said. “He is not easy to hit against and gives us a real dangerous weapon out of our bullpen.”
The Bells got the scoring started with a solo home run from Carroll (Utah) over the right field wall- his second long ball against the Pippins this season at Yakima County Stadium. Bellingham would leave runners at second and third in the fourth after Carroll’s blast. The Bells would tack on another run with an RBI single from Danny Miller (Chico State), driving in Heath (University of Maine) who had tripled. Bellingham led 2-0 entering the seventh inning, when Erives ran into a bit of trouble.
“It was huge for us to score early,” said Clem. “Being on the road and playing a good team, it was crucial to have a good start. That home run was the start we needed.”
Up 2-0, the Bells saw their lead cut in half in the seventh and nearly tied, until Ludwig took over for Erives with one out and struck out Alex Guenette (UC Irvine) to leave the tying run at third. Reid Martinez (Missouri Western State) and Vince Fernandez (UC Riverside) both singled to lead off the seventh, and advanced to second and third with a bunt by Ryan Rosa (Cal Poly). Ludwig then entered for Erives, who got Ryan Yamane (Northern Colorado) to ground out, scoring Martinez from third. With Fernandez at third base and two outs, the Bells lefty then got Guenette to strike out, stranding the tying run 90 feet away.
That seemed to ignite the Bells offense, as they came alive in the eighth and ninth innings. Heath led off with a double and was driven in by a Walker Olis (Pacific University) single. With a 3-1 advantage, Bellingham got a sac-fly RBI from Heath in the ninth, delivering Eric Webber (Georgetown), adding to the Bells lead. With Ludwig firmly in control, the 4-1 lead was all he needed.
“We had some guys collect some really nice at-bats tonight,” Clem said. “Clutch hits in key situations for us tonight was great to see.”
Yakima Valley starter Andrew Woods (Virginia Military Institute) pitched well enough to win, but the Pippins offense went through an uncharacteristic off night. Woods took the loss on Tuesday night, falling to 5-4 this season. The Yakima Valley offense managed only three hits and one run, tallying seven runners all night long (error, three walks and three hits).
Heath finished with a double, triple, two runs scored and an RBI, Olis collected two singles and Miller drove in a run with two singles. Nate Anderson (Bellevue) and Carroll each drew two walks in the victory.
“We got clutch performances tonight from both our pitching and hitting,” said Clem. “It was an all-around effort from our guys tonight. It was a long day and we’re excited to head home.”
Bellingham has now won three consecutive games against the Pippins, and took the enviable 1-0 lead in the best-of-three playoff series, heading back home. The Bells and Yakima Valley will play again on Wednesday night at 7:05pm PDT at Joe Martin Field. Aaron Sandefur (Bellevue) is the Bellingham probable starter, while Eli Morgan (Gonzaga) is slated to start for the Pippins.
Tune into Wednesday night’s broadcast, starting at 6:35pm on AM 930 KBAI and online at 930kbai.com. Dave Grant will have the play-by-play and can be followed before, during and after game action from the Bells radio broadcast Twitter: @BellsRadio.