A big first inning for the Bellingham Bells (19-9) was all they would need Monday night at Joe Martin Field to beat the Cowlitz Black Bears (10-14) 5-2.
“We came out swinging,” said Bells' assistant coach Mike Gange. “You could tell that it took a lot of the pressure off of our starter [Andrew Summerville].”
Following a shutdown top of the first inning from Summerville, the Bells offense plated four runs in the bottom of the inning, roughing up Black Bears starter Joe Balfour (2-1).
Balfour came into the game ranked seventh in the league in ERA, but gave up three consecutive hits to start the game. The third hit was how Balfour recorded his first out. Black Bears' centerfielder Ryan Aguilar fielded the base hit in center and threw home where catcher Bowen Ogata applied the tag on Dustin Breshears trying to score. The next batter Andrew Reichenbach pushed across the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to right that brought in Aaron Stroosma for a 1-0 lead.
Chase Scott continued the barrage of offense for the Bells with a single that put runners on first and third with two out. The next batter, Patrick McGrath, came up and smashed a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right for a three run homer and a 4-0 Bells lead.
The offense added a run in the bottom of the fourth on a Dustin Breshears RBI single, his third hit of the night.
Andrew Summerville made his third start of the year and rebounded from a rough outing against Yakima Valley on June 30th. “You could tell Summerville had his curveball working tonight and that is why he had the strikeouts working for him,” Gange said of the starter's performance.
Summerville had seven strikeouts in his four innings, the most by the lefthander this season. When the outing ended, he had allowed no Black Bears to score and stranded the bases loaded in the fourth inning when he got Ryan Aguilar to strikeout swinging.
After Summerville’s night came to an end, Nate Higa entered for an inning and two thirds of relief. It was an outing marked by lots of Black Bears base runners but he was able to get outs when he needed them most. The Black Bears loaded the bases on Higa in the fifth inning with one out, but nothing came of the threat when he got Casey Henderson to roll into a 5-3-2 double play to end the inning.
Higa did surrender the first run of the night on an RBI triple by Hank LoForte that made it a 5-1 game. Justin Courtney entered in the sixth to get the final two outs and strand Black Bear runners at first and third.
“Courtney was solid for us,” said Mike Gange of the right hander. “He’s going to be a big part of what we do this summer. Now whether that’s as a starter or coming out of the bullpen, I don’t know, but you saw what he is capable of tonight.”
Courtney had missed some time due to arm fatigue early in the year and then when he was expected to begin to work regularly out of the bullpen came down with an illness that had limited his time to just two appearances out of the Bells bullpen. In his second appearance of the year he was dominant, working two and two third innings and not allowing a run while striking out two.
Brice Longanecker worked the ninth for the Bells, and after giving up a leadoff triple to Slate Miller, the second of the game for the Black Bears, settled down to retire the next three batters.
On the final play, first baseman Andrew Reichenbach dove to his right to make a play on a Bowen Ogata groundball and won the race to the bag for the final out of the night.
“Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played much at first?” said Reichenbach smiling after the game. “Catcher is my position, so it has taken some time getting use to first. But I always say 100 percent effort all the time and that was the case on that play that ended it here tonight.”
The win is the Bells' sixth in a row and is the longest active streak in the West Coast League . The win has also put the Bells seven and a half games ahead in the Western Division.
Tomorrow the Bells go for the series win with Andrew Kemmerer taking the ball. First pitch will come at 7:05 with Erik Oas on the call with a 6:50 p.m. pregame show.