April 22, 2011

Baseball's home conference opener a positive one

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GREELEY, Colo. – For the third consecutive week, junior left-handed pitcher Joe Willman started the Northern Colorado baseball team off on the right note in a conference series. Friday at Jackson Field, Willman led the Bears to an 11-6 victory over Texas-Pan American, improving the team to 5-4 in Great West Conference play.

Willman pitched 6.2 innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits with three walks and two strikeouts. Younger brother, Kevin, pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up one run on two hits with one walk and senior Brendan Hall finished out the game, not allowing a hit and striking out two over the final 1.2 frames.

Hall has pitched 4.1 innings of hitless baseball this week, after throwing 2.2 innings in a winning effort at Air Force on Tuesday.

"Brendan is really taking advantage of the opportunities he has left," said Head Coach Carl Iwasaki. "We know Joe Willman's going to battle every time. He fights through adversity and I thought the key to the game was in the first inning. The bases were jacked with no outs and Joe just wills it and fights through and allows only one in the inning."

Northern Colorado scored its 11 runs on nine hits with two UTPA errors and the benefit of 12 walks. Junior Jarod Berggren hit his third home run of the year in the fifth inning, a two run shot into the wind in left field to open an 11-2 lead for the Bears. Junior Adam Hilker, freshman Matt Jones and senior Marcus Valenzuela each had two hits on the afternoon to lead the offensive efforts.

Junior Casey Coy was on base four times, but went 0-for-1 officially, as he was hit twice and walked twice. Six different Bears drew a pair of base on balls.

Junior Ben Packard led the team with three RBI, hitting a bases-clearing double down the right field line in the second inning after the Broncs walked the bases loaded.

"We had timely hitting," said Iwasaki. "I'm satisfied with how we played. We made a couple of plus plays defensively – there were two great catches by Berggren – and we have a great combo up the middle in (T.J.) Berge and Hilker. We're playing our best ball when it counts, which is right now."

In one of the strangest first innings this season, the Bears scored one run on one hit. With two outs and Berge on first after reaching on a fielder's choice, Packard was hit by a pitch and Berge was thrown out attempting to steal second. However, the officials called it a dead ball, ruled the pitch a ball, and Packard ended up drawing a walk. In the following at bat, Berggren hit a chopper back up the middle that deflected off the pitcher's glove, but the ball was again called dead as the home-plate umpire called catcher's interference. Coy was then plunked on the left shoulder to plate Berge and knot the score at 1-1.

The Broncs scored one run in the top of the second, but the Bears scored three in the second, three in the third and two each in the fourth and fifth to break the game open.

The two teams return to the diamond for a doubleheader on Saturday. Game one is scheduled to start at 11:00 am and is a seven-inning contest. Sunday's game, the finale in the series, has been changed and will start at 10:30 am.