Plays at the plate were the name of the game for the Bellingham Bells in their first-round game against Kelowna on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at Joe Martin Field.
And in the first two innings, it looked like Bellingham was getting a lesson on why baseball is called “a game of inches.”
The first two innings ended with a Bells’ runner getting thrown out at the plate, but a high throw in the seventh inning on what would have been another close call allowed Patrick McGrath to score the winning run.
Then Riley Storedahl closed out the final two innings in relief of starter Justin Calomeni, who got the win in Bellingham’s 2-1 West Coast League playoff victory.
The Bells will go on the road starting Wednesday, Aug. 12, for the final two games of the best-of-three series in Kelowna, British Columbia.
In the bottom of the first, it looked like Walker Olis’ single up the left side would put the opening run on the board but Beau Branton was thrown out at the plate. In the second, Branton drove in Joey Harris but Lou Della Fera tried to make it a 2-0 ballgame, only to be called out at home.
“We had some clutch hits but it didn’t quite work out for us,” coach Jeff James said. “They made some really great throws and their catcher made some great plays at the plate to catch and tag. Tip your cap. It’s playoff atmosphere and it’s one of those games where every play is going to be tight.”
While the Bells’ bats were held in check for the most part by Kelowna starter Brady Miller, who threw six innings of four-hit, one-run ball, it was a pair of clutch two-out hits that was enough for Calomeni, who threw a gem on the mound.
The right-hander from Cal-Poly struggled with his command early but finished with five strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only one hit.
“I was excited from the moment they told me I was going to start this game and I was just looking forward to it because we’ve worked so hard for this and I wanted to set the tone,” Calomeni said. “I was a little off my game early; I think it might have been a little bit of nerves. I don’t know. I was throwing a lot of balls but I just settled down, stayed within myself and just pounded the zone.”
The Bells went with Calomeni on the mound because of his recent success, particularly in his last outing against Kelowna, James said.
“Justin Calomeni did a great job coming in and giving us a quality start, which is what we ask our guys to do. He’s been great all year and he continued it tonight in a very high-pressure situation,” James said. “If we’re fortunate enough to make it an extended time in the playoffs hopefully he can come back.”
Storedahl came on in relief of Calomeni in the eighth inning and proceeded to strike out four of the six batters he faced in a perfect two innings.
Jayse Bannister was given the loss for the Falcons, as he threw the seventh and eighth innings, allowing two hits and a run.
Branton finished 2 for 3 with an RBI and stolen base, Walker Olis went 1 for 4, Joey Harris scored a run after getting hit by a pitch and Della Fera went 1 for 3 with the only extra-base hit of the game — a two-out double in the second.
Della Fera also had a good sliding catch in left field to end the top of the seventh.
“The first game is big. It’s a short series so definitely getting your first game is huge,” James said. “Especially here at home tonight for us, it’s even bigger. We got to go to Kelowna now and play in a tough environment and have a long day of travels tomorrow. Getting tonight’s win was big time for us.”
Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2238 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bellingham 2, Kelowna 1
WP: Justin Calomeni. LP: Jayse Bannister. Highlights: Bellingham: Beau Branton 2-3, RBI, SB; Aaron Stroosma 1-4, RBI; Walker Olis 1-4; Joey Harris 0-3, HBP, R; Patrick McGrath 1-3, R; Lou Della Fera 1-3, 2B. Kelowna: Grant Meylan 1-3, HBP, SB, R; Justin Flores 0-3, Sac Fly, RBI.
BELLINGHAM BELLS VS. KELOWNA FALCONS
Bellingham leads best of 3 series 1-0