WALLA WALLA - The opener of a three-game West Coast League baseball series between the Walla Walla Sweets and Cowlitz Black Bears provided an interesting contrast on Thursday night at Borleske Stadium.
A pair of teams headed in opposite directions.
The Sweets entered play with eight losses in their previous nine games while the Black Bears came to town as the proud owners of a seven-game winning streak.
Unfortunately for Walla Walla and a partisan crowd of 1,629, the trends remained intact after the final out was recorded.
Right hander Kevin Bosson tossed 8 2/3 innings and Brent Graham collected two hits, including a fifth-inning single that delivered an unearned run, to lead Cowlitz to a 3-1 triumph.
The Black Bears, now 12-9 on the season, moved to within one game of first-place Corvallis in the WCL West Division.
"In this stretch, our pitching and defense has been very consistent," Cowlitz manager Bryson LeBlanc said. "It allows you to win (close) games."
Thursday's setback left the Sweets with a 6-13 mark and third in the East Division standings.
Cowlitz plated the game's initial run against Walla Walla starter and hard-luck loser Trent Allianic on a Braxton Miller fielder's choice.
The Sweets scored their only run in the bottom of the first when Andrew Mendenhall, the No. 2 hitter in the batting order, drove the first pitch he saw from Bosson over the left-field wall for his second home run of the season.
Cowlitz threatened to take the lead in the fourth inning when it got runners to second and third with one out. But Allianic struck out Spencer O'Neil and Mendenhall robbed Kirk Cunningham of an extra-base hit with a sliding catch in the left-center field alley.
Walla Walla had a chance to break the tie in its half of the fourth, but a first-and-third, two-out rally was ended when Cowlitz third baseman Beau Didier made a diving stop behind the bag on a hard grounder hit by Scott Gottschling, picked himself up, and tossed across the diamond for the out.
The Black Bears picked up their final run on a Mitchel Walding single in the ninth inning.
Bosson registered the first two outs in the home ninth before allowing a hit to Brenton Allen.
Lefty Andrew Lines replaced Bosson, hit the first two batters he faced, and went to a full count on Kevin Williams after having him in an 0-2 hole.
But Lines recaptured his poise and hurled a fastball past a swinging Williams for the final out of the contest.
"It shows the character he has," LeBlanc said. "We played baseball for nine innings and didn't take a pitch off."
Bosson allowed seven hits and struck out an equal number. Allianic gave up only three hits and fanned a half-dozen.
"Trent threw his tail off," Walla Walla manager J.C. Biagi said. "(He) settled down (after the first inning) and threw great."
The Sweets had a rough night on the bases. They stranded eight runners, had one retired after an attempted advance from second to third on a ball hit to the shortstop, and another picked off of first.
"We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize," Biagi said. "We need to recognize fastballs we can hit. We were tentative at the plate in certain counts and that allowed their guy to throw his off-speed stuff."
Game two of the series is at 7:05 tonight.
"We've got guys trying to go out to win every night," Biagi said. "It's a matter of putting an approach together and executing."
Cowlitz 3, Sweets 1
Cowlitz 100 010 001 - 3 5 0
Sweets 100 000 000 - 1 7 2
Bosson, Lines (9) and Miller; Allianic, Fittry (9) and Stewart.
HR - Sweets: Mendenhall.
Hits - Cowlitz: Garlick 2, Graham, Miller, Walding; Sweets: Allen 2, Mendenhall, Stewart, Wentz, Gottschling, Williams.