Late-inning magic has been the MO of the Cowlitz Black Bears as of late. They already have a seven-run comeback on their books as well as a back-and-forth affair where Cowlitz had to score late to win.
Add another to the tally. After spotting the Kelowna Falcons five runs — four in the fifth and one in the seventh — Cowlitz came roaring back, highlighted by a wall-scraping homer from Josh Marchese, to rally for an 7-6 win and keep its winning streak alive, advancing it to six games. Sam Ireland won the game with a walk-off error to core pinch-runner Brian Cromwell and Josh Marchese hit a solo homer in the eighth to provide some much-needed momentum and excitement.
“We’re pitching better. We’re coming together as a full offense,” Ireland said. “It’s finally starting to click and we’re having a lot of fun out here.”
It really is amazing how Cowlitz keeps winning these games.
Whereas early in the season any deficit seemed insurmountable, every run a fatal blow, every game a drawn-out (failure), it’s the exact opposite now. Every missed offensive opportunity was frustrating, but quickly flushed. Every deficit is a chance to do something special.
During this six-game winning streak, that something special keeps happening. It’s becoming a regular occurrence.
So what’s different now? Why is Cowlitz so much more resilient in July than June?
“Definitely the energy inside the dugout,” Ireland said. “Like I said, it’s all starting to click for us and we’re getting hot at the right time.”
After stranding seven runners in the first three innings, wasting two exquisite scoring chances in the process, and after allowing four runs in the top of the fifth and one in the seventh to seemingly break the game open, Cowlitz went to work, as it has done recently.
James Arakawa walked to lead off the seventh and Ireland drove a single back through the box to chase reliever Connor Hurley, who blew two really good outings from starter Donovan Baldocchi and Taylor Dye.
It brought up Austin Bell, Cowlitz’s best hitter of the summer.
He bunted up the third base line and Connor Hurley, who came in for Dye, threw it past first baseman Marcus Guarin, though Bell might’ve been there anyway.
Arakawa scored easily on the play, and a hustling Ireland drew a throw from down the line and slid safely with the ball leaking past catcher Jake Fischer. Bell tried for third and also slid in safely, just beating the throw.
Sosa then singled in the Black Bears center fielder for three runs in the seventh without an out, but Kim, Price and Braden DeBenedictis couldn’t get Sosa in from second after he got a great jump on Hurley and stole it easily.
Josh Marchese hit a wall-scraper in the eighth, then Arakawa singled after shattering his bat and moved to second when Kristian Scott, who came in for Hurley after Arakawa’s single, threw a pickoff past Guarin.
Then Ireland bounced one to Voelzke at short who spun and looked at third instead of going to first. It put runners at the corners with one out for Bell. Arakawa came across on a wild pitch to tie things at five.
Bell, Sosa and Kim all walked to load the bases, but Scott struck out Price to end the inning, but not before Cowlitz evened the count.
Rance Pittman came in for the ninth, which he has been nails in, and allowed a leadoff Tressen, then Brayden Merritt bunted him over to third. Kelowna finished the old-school baseball inning by getting a sac fly from Grissom to give Kelowna its 6-5 lead, one the Black Bears were seemingly destined to change.
In the ninth, Braden DeBenedictis lined one to right that Merritt tried to catch with a dive/slide but came up short, just keeping it in front of him. DeBenedictis thought about two but wisely shut it down, settling for the single and yielding his base to the considerably faster Zack Smith.
Marchese, in his subsequent at-bat following a homer, didn’t get the bunt sign from Tweit and instead chopped one over the head of the fourth Kelowna reliever Kristian Scott, who had a hard time with going back over the mound and back-handing, and Marchese was aboard with a single. He also yielded his base, to Brian Cromwell, and Cowlitz suddenly had the winning run aboard after trailing 5-0 just some mere innings earlier.
“I trusted Marchese to do something with the bat,” Cowlitz manager Grady Tweit said. “Lots of times that’s a bunt situation right there. I was like, ‘You know what, the guy just hit a big jack, he’s feeling pretty good this game, I’ll give him a chance.’ And yeah, he got fisted, but he did enough with it to give us an opportunity.”
Smith took third on a ball in the dirt with Seth Beckstead squaring around, then Arakawa lined one to right that was deep enough to plate Smith and tie the game at six. Cromwell got to third on the play after stealing second on swinging strike three to Beckstead.
It brought up Ireland, who bounced one to Voelzke at short who rolled his ankle just as the ball got to him and he booted it, allowing Cromwell to come across and pulling the Black Bears out of the dugout to celebrate the walk-off, come-from-behind win.
“The guys off the bench coming in and picking it up (were big),” Tweit said. “Alex Brady and Rance Pittman (both in relief), to Zack Smith to Cromwell. Everybody was into it. The whole bench was into it. That’s the big thing. They’re into it right now.”
The comeback overcame the Kelowna fifth, in which the Falcons appeared the break the game open.
Voelzke started the party with a single just over the leaping Sam Ireland at second then advanced a base on a wild pitch. Tressen walked behind him.
Merritt’s bat then died a hero, getting one off the end to break it but finding outfield grass. Voelzke scored to give Kelowna its first run that started a small flood and appeared to break the game open.
Grissom lined one into left and Tressen scored from third, then James Shimashita grounded out to bring in another run and a 3-0 Kelowna lead. A batter later, Cole Cummings shot one down the right field line and Kim didn’t come up with it cleanly, allowing Cummings to get an extra base after the double. Cummings didn’t get any farther, but Kelowna scored four and took a commanding lead.
The burst ruined a fine outing from Sam Lauderdale, a lefty from Washington State, who had struggled in his previous outings though he hadn’t gotten many opportunities.
He tossed four solid innings, the single-game limit Tweit has placed on his starters, and kept Kelowna close while Cowlitz’s offense scuffled.
In the end, the frustrating missed opportunities and the Kelowna burst meant nothing, because Cowlitz’s late-inning magic is real. Or at least seems it right now.
“Perseverance,” Tweit said. “That’s what it is right there.”
Cowlitz heads south for three games with Ridgefield before a home game with Kelowna then three at Port Angeles. Cowlitz’s last three games before the All-Star Break are with Bend at home.