Red Raiders coach David Farrell couldn’t determine what exactly’s been central to Bellingham’s recent string of success.
“It’s kind of one of those things you want to have a good answer for that, but I just don’t have one,” Farrell said. “Just something clicked once we got into league with the excitement of opening with Sehome and Lynden and a bunch of other teams that are going to be toward the top of our league.”
While a true reason evaded Bellingham’s coach, starting pitcher Brad Johnson against Blaine showed why he’s been a keystone piece to the Red Raiders’ run of quality baseball.
Two games removed from tossing a complete-game, one-hitter against Sehome, Bellingham’s senior right-hander was at it again Tuesday, April 14, at Pipeline Fields.
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Johnson was dominant for 6 1/3, ran into some trouble in the seventh, but helped the Red Raiders snag a 4-3 Northwest Conference win over the upstart Borderites.
“We have some good senior leadership that really tore into us to play better and have a lot more energy, come out have fun and play hard,” said Johnson of the reasoning behind Bellingham’s three-game win streak after starting the season 2-9.
Johnson went the distance Tuesday, giving up two earned runs, five hits, one walk and he struck out nine. He tied Borderites in knots with his curveball command.
“Brad the last two games has been phenomenal,” Farrell said. “You just sit back and let him go. He’s a pleasure to watch when he’s dealing. ... He had a good curveball going. He froze those guys, tied them up a little bit.”
While Bellingham (5-9, 5-1 NWC) has struggled at times this season, its made its wins count, earning all five of its victories in league play. With the success of Blaine (7-6, 4-2 NWC), Tuesday’s matchup featured two teams perched high in the conference’s standings.
With the help of Nate Pearsall, who finished 2 for 3 with two RBI and a walk, the Red Raiders quickly jumped on Blaine starter Jonathan Starcer, who entered Tuesday’s game undefeated at 4-0.
Starcer was shaky in the first, hitting Dante Check in the hip on the game’s first pitch. And with two outs and a runner on second, Pearsall began a run of three straight hits with an RBI single up the middle to put Bellingham in front 1-0.
Nick Knutson, two batters later, drove in Pearsall with a single down the right-field line, and Alex Richard pushed Bellingham’s lead to 3-0 in the top of the first after advancing home when Blaine catcher Brendan Riddle threw down to second.
Starcer went five innings, gave up four earned runs on five hits, walked four and struck out six.
He settled in after the first, but gave up what would be an eventual costly run in the top of the fifth when Pearsall again came up with a pivotal RBI single, giving the Red Raiders a 4-0 advantage.
“Nate has been really clutch for us,” Farrell said. “He continues to step up, and when we need something big, he just brings it.”
Meanwhile, Johnson kept Blaine off the basepaths.
The Borderites only reached base three times in the first four innings, and twice Johnson picked off runners at first.
Blaine didn’t log a hit until Anthony Ball, who finished 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI, reached safe on a grounder to short in the bottom of the fifth, but Johnson got out of the inning unscathed.
But in the home half of the seventh, the Borderites finally got to Johnson. Ball and Rudy Nolasco sandwiched doubles around Cody Gobbato reaching safely on an error. Ball’s double cut Blaine’s deficit to 4-1, and Nolasco made it 4-2. Ben Hodgin drove in Gobbato with a groundout to second base.
Riddle had the chance to drive in the tying run with his team trailing 4-3 with a runner on third and two outs, but Johnson froze him on a breaking ball to end the game.
“I appreciate their effort, obviously, but we have to have that effort in the first six innings, and we didn’t” said Hoffman of Blaine’s seventh-inning rally. “We ran into a really good pitcher.”
Bellingham 4, Blaine 3
WP: Brad Johnson (2-3). LP: Jonathan Starcer (4-1). Highlights: Blaine: Anthony Ball 2-3, 2B, RBI, R; Rudy Nolasco 1-3, 2B, RBI; Cody Gobbato 1-3, R. Bellingham: Nate Pearsall 2-3, 2 RBI, BB, R; Dante Check 2-3, Nick Knutson 1-3, RBI, Brad Johnson 0-1, 3 BB, R.