The Cowlitz Black Bears got their five-game, non-league homestand off to a winning start, but it wasn’t necessarily the most relaxed of victories in a 2-1 victory over the Northwest Stars Nighthawks on Friday.
The Nighthawks scratched a run across in the top of the first inning, but from there Kelly Austin and a three-man parade out of the bullpen shut them out the rest of the way. However, a couple of bad hops and tough calls forced the Cowlitz pitchers to bend as much as possible without breaking.
In the top of the eighth inning, James Bradwell thought he had turned a possible inning-ending double play with a roller up the middle, but the field umpire ruled that Matthew Schwarz’ flip to Matty Fung wasn’t quick enough to get the runner at second — much to the dismay of everyone in the Cowlitz dugout and the crowd at Story field. With the bases loaded and still just one out though, Bradwell made sure of it, rolling a harder grounder to Schwarz for a double play to get the Black Bears out of the jam.
An inning later, Keegan Wright got two quick outs to bring Cowlitz a batter away from the win, but a single put a runner on and a lazy chopper just over the head of Kase Ogata at first got him all the way to third. With the tying run 90 feet away, Wright got one last Nighthawk batter to fly out to center for the final out.
“Those are the types of things that happen, where you feel like a play or a call doesn’t go your way, and you don’t let it get to you and you get the next guy,” Cowlitz manager Brian Burres said. “That’s when you see the teams that really fight and have it.”
Before it went to the bullpen, Austin put in yet another strong start early in the season, striking out seven in six innings.
He had to work around base runners in each of his first five frames, but after the first — when the Nighthawks brought a run home on a two-out single — Austin kept the guests off the scoreboard the whole way.
“He was great,” Burres said. “Pounded the zone, got after the hitters. He works fast, which is really nice. It keeps the defense engaged. I’m sure everybody loves it when he’s on the mound.”
In the top of the seventh, Carter Sutton — donning the black and orange for the first time after signing with the team earlier Friday — was the first face out of the bullpen, and got into a jam, but got out of it with an easy grounder.
“We have a tendency to get them right into the fire,” Burres said. “I thought he performed pretty good. A couple hits here and there, but I thought he threw it well.”
Tanon Mein held the Black Bears hitless over their first three innings at the plate, but when he made his exit for Eli Takalo, Cowlitz jumped on the relief.
Matthew Schwarz, making his return to the lineup for the beginning of the homestand, led the top of the fourth off with a double down the left-field line. Right behind him, Jacob Stinson sent one into right-center and legged out a double of his own, scoring Schwarz to tie it at 1-1.
Stinson went to third on a groundout off the bat of Wilson Weber, then came home on a sacrifice fly by Johnny Radomskiy to give the Black Bears all the offense they’d need in the end.
“I feel like that’s probably the best way to get on guys: don’t let them get comfortable out there,” Burres said. “Sometimes you let a pitcher get ahead a couple times and they get comfortable. We jumped on him from the get-go. It was nice, because we definitely needed those runs.”
Schwarz finished 2-for-4, and Ogata put up a 2-for-3 night. Radomskiy didn’t notch a hit, but reached base twice on free passes along with bringing a run home.
The Black Bears were set to face the Nighthawks again Saturday at 6:35 p.m., with Dale Takalo slated to start on the hill.