WALLA WALLA - A two-run first inning proved to be enough for the visiting Bend Elks on Wednesday night during a 2-1 victory over the Walla Walla Sweets in the opener of a three-game West Coast League baseball series at Borleske Stadium.
A quartet of Bend pitchers combined on a four-hitter in the nine-inning contest that was witnessed by an announced crowd of 1,364.
The close call kept the second-place Elks two-and-a-half games behind Corvallis in the WCL's West Division and three games ahead of third-place Cowlitz. The Black Bears kept pace with Bend in the battle for the West's second playoff berth and did the Sweets a favor with a 5-1 win over Bellingham on Wednesday.
Walla Walla remained two games behind the Bells in the race for the East Division's second postseason spot.
Bend scored its first run against Walla Walla starter Jacob Overbay on a Ryan Dunn single to right field and its second on a Sweets error.
Overbay allowed just three hits during innings two through six before giving way to the bullpen.
"Jacob threw well," Walla Walla manager J.C. Biagi said. "He started slow, then settled in."
The Sweets tallied their only run in the fifth inning. Chance Kopacz was hit by a pitch to lead things off, advanced to second on a passed ball, and reached third on an Austin Heaps infield grounder.
Following walks to Elliot Stewart and Brenton Allen, Kopacz scored on a Bend miscue.
Bullpen performer Brandon Brennen, a right-hander making his first start of the season, extricated himself from further difficulty by retiring Alex Stanford on a shallow fly to left and striking out Scott Gottschling.
"Brandon did a great job for us," said Bend manager and former Whitman College player Sean Kinney. "We're trying to get the roles for our pitching staff (established). It's nice to see it take shape."
"We passed up a few pitches and swung at a few we shouldn't have swung at," Biagi said.
In the bottom of the ninth, Heaps drew a one-out walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Nick Gentili. One out later, James Campbell kept the Sweets alive with a single to left that sent Gentili to second.
But the threat and game ended one pitch after Campbell's base knock when Bend closer Jeff Brigham got Kelani Brackenridge to hit into a 6-4 fielder's choice.
"It was a good ball game - well pitched," Kinney said. "Every game means a lot - so much more now."
It was a frustrating night for both teams. Bend left eight runners on base. The Sweets stranded nine and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
"I didn't feel like we created opportunities," Biagi said.
The middle game of the series is at 7:05 tonight.
Bend 2, Sweets 1
Bend 200 000 000 - 2 5 1
Sweets 000 010 000 - 1 4 2
Brennen, Cuneo (6), Stiltner (8), Brigham (9) and Demello. Overbay, Peterson (7), Billen (9) and Stewart.
HR - none.
Hits - Bend: Collins 2, Dunn 2, Olson. Sweets: Mendenhall 2, Stewart, Campbell.
Attend. - 1,364.