Black Bears drop season finale, just miss playoffs

2011-08-10T23:00:00Z 2012-05-31T20:00:11Z Black Bears drop season finale, just miss playoffsBy Zach Buchanan / The Daily News Longview Daily News
August 10, 2011 11:00 pm  • 

The Cowlitz Black Bears did not go quietly into that good night, but they did go.

The Black Bears fell to the Corvallis Knights 2-0 in their West Coast League season finale Wednesday at David Story Field, denying them their first playoff berth in club history.

Cowlitz finished the summer 28-26, the first winning season in the franchise's two-year existence. The Bears finished third in the West Division, a game behind Bend (29-25), which advanced to the postseason instead.

"The bar has been raised here in Longview during the summer, and that's a tribute to these boys," said Bears coach Bryson LeBlanc. "Never did they give up. Never. I'll miss ‘em. I'll miss ‘em dearly."

That Cowlitz never gave up is no exaggeration. The Bears overcame blowing a 3-0 lead the night before in Corvallis, rebounding to win 7-4 in the 10th inning and keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Bears may have lost three of their final four games, but they did so by a combined four runs.

On Wednesday, things seemed the most hopeless. The Cowlitz pitching staff was already depleted by the school-bound departures of starters Porter Clayton, Grahamm Wiest and Ian Ekery and injuries to several key relievers. The most reliable relievers

the Bears did have were unavailable to start thanks to the bullpen-sapping extra innings the night before.

So the starting nod, against the West Division champion Knights, went to reliever Jake Doller, who had pitched just 14 2/3 innings for the Bears all summer and hadn't started a game since 2010.

Doller found out he was starting when he arrived at Story Field Wednesday afternoon.

"I kind of had a thought in my mind that I would get the ball, so I was ready for it," Doller said.

He wasn't lying. Doller allowed just two runs — neither earned  and three hits in 4 1/3 innings. If not for an error, a walk, a balk and a fluke single that plated two Corvallis runs in the first, Cowlitz might still be playing.

Doller was relieved in the fifth by someone who had even less experience with the Bears — Jared Van Hoon, who signed with the team on Monday. He wore Ekery's number, 21, because the jersey was clean.

The side-arming righty pitched three hitless, scoreless innings.

"That was the first time in my life that I've ever seen Jared Van Hoon throw the baseball," LeBlanc said. "That was the first time in (pitching coach Todd) Naskedov's life that he's ever seen Jared Van Hoon throw the baseball."

Richi Sandoval pitched the final 1 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out two.

Where the pitching erred, the Bears defense picked up the slack. First baseman Kirk Cunningham cherry-picked a screaming line drive two feet over his head to save a likely double at the start of the fourth inning, and Kyle Garlick tracked down a slicing foul ball on the run to save a run later in the inning.

Corvallis loaded the bases with one out in the eighth after Sandoval plunked a batter with his first pitch of the game, but Cowlitz escaped with a strikeout and a line out to right.

The Bears refused to let the game get out of hand.

"That's because our team has the right mentality," said third baseman Beau Didier. "We get it from Bryson and Coach (Cody) Kier, Coach (Josh) Hogan and Coach Naskedov. We get it from them every day we come to the field, wanting to play baseball, wanting to win.

"You hate to say it, but sometimes summer ball gets a little long," he added. "That wasn't the case this year. I know everybody wanted to come to the field every day."

Even Van Hoon, he of three whole days with the team, picked up on the pennant race fever from Cowlitz mid-season acquisition Kevin Schwartz, who played with Van Hoon earlier in the summer.

"For him to say he doesn't want the season to end really shows me that they have something to play for," Van Hoon said. "Being here for three games, I feel like I've been with them for months. The atmosphere is incredible."

The Bears certainly went down swinging. There was just too much missing — Cowlitz struck out 11 times.

The Bears racked up nine hits to the Knights' four, but couldn't get the timely ones. They wasted their best chance in the fifth when Bailey Graham, Braxton Miller and Mitchell Walding struck out in succession with the bases loaded.

"I would take those three guys that went to the plate any day of the week," LeBlanc said. "I wouldn't have traded those three guys for anything."

The season was an undeniable success for the Bears, who played meaningful baseball until the last game. Certainly a big change from their inaugural 18-30 campaign in 2010.

"That's what I told them last night," LeBlanc said. "I said, ‘Whether you like it or not, you have a legacy. You're going to leave something behind. And one thing that people can't call this team is a bunch of losers.'

"We ended with a winning record. This group was a bunch of winners. No, we didn't make the playoffs. But it was a good run. It was a good ride with these guys. I wish it didn't end."

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