Literally one swing of the bat put the Bells in a one-games-to-none hole in the best-of-three West Coast League Championship series on Friday night in Corvallis, OR. In front of over 700 fans, the Knights took an early 1-0 lead only to watch as the Bells grabbed the lead with two runs in the third and one in the fourth. Scott Quinlan (UC Santa Barbara) drove the first pitch he saw in the fourth inning over the left-centerfield wall for what proved to be the game-winning blast that propelled Corvallis at Goss Stadium at Coleman Field. Zach Johnson (Central Washington) struck out seven in his 4.2 innings of work and took the loss, after allowing the blast in the fourth inning after Bellingham had taken the lead in the top of the third. Johnson fell to 3-3 on the season.
"Literally it was one pitch that did us in tonight," said Bells assistant coach Mike Gange on the postgame. "Zach pitched well tonight. It was one mistake that was hit perfectly."
On an evening where Corvallis jumped in front early, the Bells came back to grab a lead as they have done so many times this season. After Grant Melker (University of San Diego) singled to lead off the first inning for the Knights, Dalton Kelly (UC Santa Barbara) drove him in with a double. With Corvallis leading 1-0, the Bells went to work on Knights starter Jackson Lockwood (Portland) and collected two runs in the third for their first advantage of the night. Dustin Breshears (Gonzaga) drove a 2-1 pitch over the head of Corvallis right fielder Tim Rausch (Western Oregon) and Dallas Carroll (Utah) then drove him in with an RBI single. With the score knotted at one, Heath (University of Maine) drove in Carroll with a double and the Bells took a 2-1 lead. Lockwood finished his night in the fourth inning after allowing an RBI single to Nate Anderson (Bellevue College), as he lasted only 3.1 innings with two walks and two strikeouts.
"That was a clutch inning for us- the third- three big hits and it gave us some momentum," Gange said. "We are always confident in our approaches. We had the momentum after taking the lead."
That was where the momentum was put to rest. Corvallis then answered back in the fourth with a walk by Kelly, a single by Marc Gallegos (Corban College) setting up Quinlan's blast. The three-run homer was his second of the season and gave Corvallis a 4-3 lead. Neither team managed a single run the rest of the way, as both the Bells and the Knights received excellent production from their bullpens. Justin Calomeni (Cal Poly) picked up the win in relief for Corvallis, spinning 4.2 innings of one-hit baseball, with five strikeouts and improved his record to 3-3. The righthander retired 11 consecutive Bells hitters before departing after the eighth. Michael Rucker (BYU) was equally as effecitive for Bellingham, hurling 3.1 innings of hitless, scoreless baseball. Brandon Choate (University of Washington) picked up his 10th save of the season, with a scoreless ninth inning with two strikeouts.
"Give their guy (Calomeni) a lot of credit tonight," said Gange. "He pitched very well for them in relief. Mike (Rucker) pitched really well for us too."
Though Bellingham out-hit the Knights on Friday night, 8-5, Corvallis was able to steal three bases against the Bells and constantly threatened to score with their speed. The Knights left runners at third base in both the fifth and sixth innings, and stranded another runner in the seventh. Bellingham, meanwhile, managed only one baserunner after the fifth- a one out walk to Eric Webber (Georgetown) in the ninth. Choate then struck out Anderson and got Breshears to ground out to end the game.
"When two really good teams come together, you are going to get games that end this way," Gange said. "Hard fought game on both sides. We will be ready on Sunday."
Corvallis now leads the best-of-three series, 1-0, as the series shifts back to Bellingham for the second and third (if necessary) games. Sunday's second game is slated for 7:05pm PDT at Joe Martin Field. To order your playoff tickets, visit www.bellinghambells.com. Ryan McMonigle (Concordia University) is the probable starter for the Bells. To catch the action on Sunday, tune into AM 930 KBAI or online at 930kbai.com. Dave Grant will have the play-by-play and can be followed before, during and after game action on Twitter: @BellsRadio.