It’s true that the Cowlitz Black Bears have been eliminated from the playoff chase.
What’s not true, though, is that they’ve given up. Cowlitz scored three first-inning runs, got five really solid innings from Nate Packard and swept aside the Yakima Valley Pippins with a 3-1 win in its home finale on Thursday night.
“Sweeps are fun,” manager Grady Tweit said.
Tweit has been effusive in his praise of his players all season, even as things were going badly for much of the first half.
One could see why on Thursday.
While just playing for pride, Cowlitz didn’t miss a beat from its last couple of weeks.
They made pitchers work, grinding through at-bats with good takes and spoiled out pitches. They played solid defense. They pitched well.
If you didn’t know the game was largely inconsequential — at least from a playoffs perspective — you wouldn’t have known. And that perhaps is the greatest compliment you could give a team.
Game doesn’t matter? Not true. It matters all the same.
“They are a little bummed about (being eliminated), but it was the same mentality of ‘screw it, let’s finish strong,’” Tweit said. “It’s good to hear that right when we got to the yard today.”
For the third straight game against Yakima Valley, Cowlitz scored in the first inning.
It started when Andres Sosa blistered a double past Brady Hormel at third and it rolled al the way to the fence for a standup double.
Colton Eager lined a single into right an out later, then Josh Marchese walked to the bases. This spelled the end of the night for Pippins starter Dylan Bishop.
Seth Beckstead walked, Jayden Hanna got hit on the arm, then Jhamonte Woods walked as well, giving Cowlitz three runs without a timely hit to drive them in.
Pippins pitching coach Rob Hippi, who had previously already been out to the mound for a chat, went to reliever Mark Woinarowicz, who induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning, but damage done.
“It was great at-bats,” Tweit said. “The key to the first inning really was patience. Their guy just wasn’t as sharp as we expected him to be, so at the end of the day we took advantage and got some quick runs.”
But Cowlitz couldn’t get much more going offensively. It only got a couple runners to second the rest of the ballgame, largely being shut down by Woinarowicz, who allowed just five hits over his next 5 2/3 innings.
But the lack of offense ultimately didn’t matter.
Packard, despite some control issues that led to a bases-loaded jam in the second and a first-and-third jam in the fourth, blanked the Pippins for his five frames. He lobbied Cowlitz pitching coach Cam Margaris and Tweit for a sixth, but he lost that fight, instead yielding to Dale Takalo.
The hard-throwing righty from Knappa, Oregon picked up where Packard left off, and Yakima Valley had no answers.
Unfortunately, Cowlitz has no chance to even play the spoiler at its final series in Portland.
With Corvallis sweeping Bellingham on Thursday and Bend salvaging its series with Portland, the Pickles are now five games back of the Knights with three to play, meaning the Knights have clinched the second-half playoff spot and will play Victoria for the WCL title.
No matter for Cowlitz, which will still try to go win three games in Oregon’s largest city.
“It’s gonna be a fun atmosphere,” Tweit said. “It’ll be exciting to go down there. They always do a good job anyways and and they’re a tough team. We’ll see what happens and give ‘em our best.”
All three games in Portland start at 7:05 p.m.