In a highly anticipated game between the West Coast League’s best team, the Bend Elks (31-11), and the Western Division leading Bellingham Bells (27-16), it was the Elks who took game one, 6-5.
“We knew this would be a hard fought game between two teams that are the top of their divisions for a reason,” said assistant coach Mike Gange. “It was a great atmosphere and a great game, we just came up a little short.”
The atmosphere was rocking at Vince Genna Stadium. With a $2 Tuesday crowd in attendance and before an announced crowd of just under 3,000, the Bells began the scoring in the top of the first inning.
Dustin Breshears floated a single into left center field for the first of three Bells hits to begin the inning. Breshears did not stay at first long when Elks starter, Jordan Wilcox, sent a pickoff attempt down the first baseline, allowing Breshears to motor all the way to third. Aaron Stroosma drove in Breshears four pitches later on a ground ball to shortstop Cayden Grenier for a 1-0 lead.
On this night, one run would not hold up. Bells starter Zach Johnson (2-2) pitched extremely well, taking the Bells two outs into the seventh inning for his longest start of the season. Johnson also racked up seven strikeouts, his most in a game this season. While Johnson was sharp, he was tested in his last inning the bottom of the seventh with the game tied at 3-3.
Cooper Hummel, the eighth hitter for the Elks, tripled with one out and forced the Bells to play their infield in on the grass. Dalton Hurd smashed a ball over to third that Bells’ third basemen, Chase Scott, dove to his left on to knock down. Shortstop Dustin Breashers picked up the deflection and threw home to gun down Hummel for the second out of the inning.
“This was a game that had everything,” Breshears said after the game. “Chase [Scott] made such a great play just to get that ball down and give me a chance in the seventh.”
Breshears made several standout defensive plays but said of the performance, “it’s something that when the game is going [on] you don’t think much about. It was so close tonight that you just had to stay focused.”
The Bells took out Johnson following the acrobatic out and brought in Channing Nesbitt. Nesbitt walked the first two Elks he faced to load the bases and saw a full count offering to Tyler Davis be sent up the middle to drive in two runs and break the tie. Another single was recorded by West Tunnell that brought in the third and final run of the inning to give the Elks a 6-3 lead.
In the next frame, the Bells answered back. They loaded the bases on three consecutive base hits from Andrew Reichenbach, Beau Branton, and K.J. Brady. Breshears worked a walk to force in the first run of the inning and forced Harrison Pyatt (3-0) out of the game. Daniel Bies entered and walked another Bell, Aaron Stroosma, to force in the second run of the inning, but then settled down to strikeout Chris Beall and get Alex Galgano on a ground ball to short that ended the inning with Bells at every base. The relief work of Bies preserved the Elks 6-5 lead.
In the ninth the Bells threatened again. Scott tripled to dead center with one out after Derrick Chapman sold out on a dive to catch the ball only to see the ball roll all the way to the wall. Bies was able to strand Scott at third when he set down the final two men with the strikeout to earn his third save of the season.
The loss keeps their magic number at six with the Victoria HarbourCats win earlier in the day. Their lead in the Western Division is now five and half games.
Tomorrow, the Bells will wrap up the series with a doubleheader. Andrew Kemmerer will take the ball in game one with Andrew Summerville going for the Bells in game two. It is the first time the teams have played a doubleheader against each other. Erik Oas will be on the call at 4:20 pm at www.bellinghambells.com for the pregame show. First pitch is scheduled for 4:35.