Bells starter Johnny Wiltfang went 3 ⅓ innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits while striking out five. // Photo by Rachel Alexander
By Emily Porter
Matt McLain’s walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Bellingham Bells a 7-4 win and the series sweep over the Bend Elks at Joe Martin Field on Monday, July 23.
The Bells (27-14) have won seven of their last 10 and hold a three-game lead in the West Coast League North Division over the Kelowna Falcons (23-16).
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and runners on second and third, Bells outfielder Jordan Stoner scored on a wild pitch by Elks closer Bradley Gonzalez to narrow the gap to 4-3.
A walk by Bells catcher Matt James and a single by second baseman Dusty Stroup sent Zach Needham to third and loaded the bases for McLain.
McLain then turned on a 1-0 fastball across the inside of the plate and sent a towering shot over the left field fence for the walk-off win.
“I was just looking for something to drive,” McLain said. “Then the fastball came in and I reacted. It happened to go over the fence.”
McLain, who turned down a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization after being selected 25th overall in the MLB draft, went 1-for-3 on the night with four RBIs and a walk.
Stroup also had a big night for Bellingham, going 3-for-4 while scoring two runs and driving in another. Ferndale native James was 2-for-4 and scored twice.
Connor Mack’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second plated Stroup from third base and gave the Bells a 1-0 lead. The Elks (11-34) tied the score at one in the third inning, then hammered Bells starter Johnny Wiltfang in the fourth inning for three more runs to make it 4-1.
“We fell behind, so it was an uphill battle until that [ grand slam],” said Jim Clem, pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
Wiltfang lasted 3 ⅓ innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits while striking out five.
Bellingham relievers, a combination of Marcos Cuenca, Trevor Delaite and Carson Olson, held the Elks hitters in check for the final five innings, allowing two hits while striking out four.
“We pitched well and had quite a few base runners,” Clem said. “We had to overcome adversity. Sometimes we tried too hard tonight and I felt like we needed to relax and play our game.”
The Bells shortened the Elks lead in the bottom of the sixth after James smoked a line drive which turned into a triple. He then scored when Stroup hit an RBI single to make the game 4-2.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Bells threatened to score after loading the bases with only one out. Zach Needham walked, James singled and a McLain walked, but a groundout by Ernie Yake and a Mack flyout ended the inning with no runs.
“You never give up on a game,” Clem said. “You keep playing until the last out is made.”
The Bells rallied in the ninth on a combination of walks and singles and found themselves with bases loaded again – this time they didn’t miss the opportunity.
“That was a big swing with two outs in the bottom of the ninth,” Clem said. “Matt joined [the team] a little late so it was fun to see him get that hit for us tonight.”
The Bells are riding a three-game win streak and are shifting their focus to the Port Angeles Lefties, who they’ll play on Tuesday, July 24 at Joe Martin Field.
McLain said he’s looking forward to keeping the momentum going.
“That was the final game and we were down and we are rolling into Port Angeles,” McLain said. “It will be a good series.”