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Cowlitz Black Bears

Black Bears join playoff hunt after six-game win streak

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Cowlitz Black Bears (copy)

Jace McKinney has given a big boost to the Cowlitz Black Bears, now a playoff contender. The Mt. Hood Community College sophomore is hitting .326 in 16 games for the Bears.

Just as the Cowlitz Black Bears have done in countless games this season, they’ve saved the best for the end.

Despite a 3-7 start to the second half of the year, the morale never wavered.

A six-game win streak last week then vaulted Cowlitz (9-10 second half, 21-25 overall) into the West Coast League playoff hunt.

But since then, the Bears have lost three straight and sit four games back of Yakima Valley with eight to go. Still, there’s hope for the squad’s second postseason appearance in the team’s seven-year history.

“There’s something to compete for at a higher level,” pitcher Jacob Worrell, who earned WCL Pitcher of the Week for his 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball over two appearances during the streak. “I think we’ve really matured as a team.”

Thanks to the split season format, where the 54-game schedule is split into two — the winner of the division in each half earning a playoff berth — Cowlitz has a chance to end the year at home next week with plenty on the line.

First, they play two more in Walla Walla before a three-game road series with Yakima Valley that could keep Bears fans hopes of extra baseball alive or eliminate the squad from playoff contention.

“I don’t know if I like it yet,” coach Grady Tweit said of the league’s new split season format. “It’s given us a chance to rejuvenate a bit but I don’t know if I’d like to be the team that won the division early.

“I like this side of it where I’m trying to play back in.”

And his team has certainly played itself back in last week. After a 7-0 loss to Bend Wednesday, July 20, the Black Bears flipped over a new leaf.

Tweit insists he didn’t make any significant changes other than getting power bats like Kenyon Yovan and Lorin Archibald higher in the lineup. Rather it’s come from a group of guys learning how to play summer ball, an everyday affair most aren’t quite used to.

“I bet you some of them will tell you we’re pretty tired right now but they’re finding out how to mentally prepare,” Tweit said. “That’s the test of this league. They might only feel 80 percent but they’re saying ‘I’m going to give 100 of that 80.”

If they want to play professional baseball, it’s a good lesson to learn, Tweit said.

But not only has this team been able to keep focused throughout games, the Black Bears have also found myriad ways to win. Whether it’s coming from behind, holding a team off, pounding out 10 hits or dealing a shutout, the key to the streak has been the lack of identity.

“No identity needed,” Worrell said. “As a team we’re becoming more connected and producing on the same level now. You start to play loose because you trust each other. If you don’t succeed, someone else will pick you up that day.”

Lately though the tides have turned the other way, as early deficits have cost the Bears in three straight. Time to start another rally.

At least this time, the Black Bears know how it’s done.

Cowlitz can’t quite rally in Walla Walla

The Black Bears have struggled on the road this season and Friday night was no different. They fell to the Sweets 7-3 in the opener of a three-game series.

Chandler Greenfield tossed a strong five innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) but reliever Akaash Agarwal opened the Walla Walla floodgates when he came on in the sixth.

The Sweets knocked in five runs off the University of California pitcher and despite a two-run eighth, the hole was too much to climb out of for Cowlitz.

The Bears collected six hits on the night, as Michael Forgione went 2-4, Jack Reisinger went 3-4 and Andy Armstrong added one.

Cowlitz’s road series continues Saturday with a 7:05 p.m. start.

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