Sweets Come Up Short, 1-0, to Cowlitz - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Sweets Come Up Short, 1-0, to Cowlitz

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LONGVIEW, Wash. -- It was the ultimate pitchers duel between Tyler Billen and Matt Maurer for seven and a half innings before the Cowlitz Black Bears scrapped across a run in the eighth inning and then held off a Walla Walla Sweets rally in the ninth for a 1-0 victory on Friday night at Story Field.

The original pitching matchup featured Maurer against Aaron Hoverson but the right-hander from Winona St. lasted only an inning.  Billen took over in the second and the two left-handers matched each other pitch-for-pitch over the next six and a half innings.  Headed to Southwest Oklahoma St. in the fall, Billen had his best and longest outing of the summer, tossing 6.2 innings of relief.  He set down the first six batters he faced before giving up a single with one out in the fourth and then did not allow another hit until the eighth. 

In the eighth, the Black Bears finally got to him.  Kevin Schwartz singled to start the inning, moved to second on a sac bunt and to third on a wild pitch.  The Sweets brought the infield in with Kirk Cunningham at the plate and the first baseman laced a 3-0 pitch past a diving Alex Stanford to break the scoreless deadlock. 

Pitching a two-hitter through eight, Maurer came back out to start the ninth in search of the complete game shutout.  The Sweets did not go quietly though.  Stanford singled for the third time to start the inning and after back-to-back outs, stole second.  Maurer then hit Wentz to put two runners on and was relieved by Richi Sandoval.  The left-hander walked Goose Kallunki on a pay-off pitch to load the bases and bring Chance Kopacz to the plate.  Trying to be the hero for the second-straight night, Kopacz drove one to left field but the wind knocked it down and Billy Flamion made the catch to end the game.

Describing himself as a ground ball pitcher, Billen was anything but tonight.  Billen utilized a heavy wind blowing in from left to his advantage and also got some help in the outfield.  Of the first twelve outs he recorded, nine were fly outs and he finished the night with 14 fly outs.  Kopacz ran down a Flamion drive to right in the third to help out his pitcher and Billen had two innings, the third and fifth, in which he recorded a 1-2-3 inning on consecutive fly outs.

Maurer was just as good.  After allowing a leadoff infield single to Stanford, he battled back to get a fly out and then picked Stanford off of second base for the second out.  He struck out two in a 1-2-3 second, struck out two more in the third despite Stanford singling for the second time and then did not allow another hit until the ninth.  He issued a leadoff walk in the fifth and then set down the next 12 batters through the eighth. 

Stanford had all three hits for the Sweets and has collected three hits in each of his last three games to push his average to .339.  He currently leads the West Coast League in hits with 59.  Spencer O'Neil had Cowlitz's first two hits, a first inning double and a fourth inning single and Schwartz scored the only run of the game as the Black Bears won for the fifth time in seven meetings between the two teams this summer.

Despite the loss, the Sweets still maintained their two game lead over Bellingham thanks to Wenatchee's 13-6 victory over the Bells.  The magic number drops to four and the Sweets can cut it to three tomorrow night when they face the Black Bears in game two.  First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 and Brett Watson will get the ball for the Sweets.