By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

Alan Embree says sleep has come easier for him in recent weeks compared with the first month of the West Coast League baseball season.

“Trying to find ways to get these guys to win, there was a lot of sleepless nights,” says Embree, the Bend Elks’ first-year head coach. “But I feel more comfortable every night.”

After a difficult stretch during the first half of the season, in which Bend finished third in the South Division, the Elks are in postseason contention. They have hit their stride, and Embree says several players are experiencing deja vu.

“I had a few of the veterans say that this little stretch felt like the chemistry of 2015,” Embree says, referring to the Elks’ lone WCL championship season. “With how many athletes we have on the field, it’s fun to watch.”

Following a home series sweep of the Bellingham Bells, including Wednesday’s game in which the Elks battled back from a five-run deficit to win 14-7, Bend heads into a three-game road trip at Walla Walla 1½ games behind Cowlitz for the second-half South Division lead but only half a game back overall. If first-half South winner Corvallis wins the second half, the team with the next-best overall record will make the playoffs.

After beginning the second half of the season with three straight losses at Corvallis, the Elks (5-4 second half, 17-19 overall) have won five of their past six games.

Powered by infielder Collin Runge (13-of-22 hitting with 10 RBIs over the past six contests) and outfielders Colton Cosner (10-for-20), Derek Chapman (11-for-28) and Jack Pauley (7-for-15 with six RBIs), the Elks have found an offensive consistency not present during the season’s first half.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff, which for the season has allowed the most runs (218) in the WCL through Wednesday’s games, has given up an average of just four runs over the past six games. Complementing the hurlers is a defense that, while still having the second-worst fielding percentage in the league, has committed just three errors during the Elks’ streak.

“It’s a chemistry thing,” Embree says. “They’ve gotten to know each other better. It’s the fact that we have a bench now. If somebody’s messing up or not carrying their weight, we can put somebody in there that wants it. It keeps everybody hungry.”

Nothing magical about it, Embree insists. Rather, it is a matter of teammates picking each other up, such as when an infielder boots a ground ball and is comforted by the pitcher, or when a pitcher struggles during an inning then is lifted by his team’s potent offense the following frame.

“In this streak, we’ve played nine innings of baseball (each game), which we hadn’t been able to put together,” Embree observes. “I think they’re just feeding off of each other, and when you play all three aspects of the game (offense, defense, pitching), you have a good chance to win. You’re going to lose sometimes, but right now, the boys are feeling very confident. They’re picking up after each other and they have each other’s backs.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307,