March 3, 2012

Baseball earns an impressive first win of young season

By SCOTT WARD
UNCBears.com

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Save for one inning yesterday, Northern Colorado Baseball played its best game of the early season Friday in the opener of this nonconference three-game series at Washington State.

That "best game" tag, however, lasted fewer than 24 hours.

Friday's effort was bested Saturday afternoon, when the Bears strung together a season-high 14 hits—including seven from their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters—and climbed out of a 2-0 first-inning deficit to win 7-3 against the Pac-12 Cougars at Bailey-Brayton Field.

Senior lefty Nate Steinmetz pitched six complete innings Saturday, struck out five and walked only three in earning his first win of the season (1-1) and helping the Bears (1-5) to one of their most impressive wins at the NCAA Division I level.

True-freshman Jess Amedee then provided three innings of one-run relief to earn his first career save and push Northern Colorado past a major FBS program for the first time since it defeated Nebraska 10-7 on March 25, 2009.

The win was also the program's first against a current Pac-12 program since it knocked off Arizona State 6-3 on March 21, 2008.

The Bears' series with the Cougars will conclude at 11 a.m. MT tomorrow before the Bears come home next weekend to take on Nebraska-Omaha at Jackson Field.

"This was a good, ­quality team win today for Northern Colorado," Bears coach Carl Iwasaki said. "We did a good job stringing together hits and we broke it wide open there in the seventh and ninth innings.

"We did a good job scoring late. [Scoring] two in the top of the seventh and two in the top of the eighth will help you win a lot of ballgames. We basically put the pressure on [Washington State], and we went ahead finished the game up there. This is the first of many wins for us this year, but it was a real quality win today for the Bears."

It didn't look like there would be history made for the Bears after the bottom of the first inning—after Steinmetz started his second start of the season with a five-pitch walk and then gave up a triple and a double.

After just its first three batters, Washington State (6-3), which had won five straight games, led 2-0 and hadn't gotten an out yet.

Steinmetz buoyed himself from there, though, and got the next batter out on a fly to right and then stranded a Cougar runner on third by striking out the next two for outs two and three. He allowed only six hits over the next five innings and stranded three more runners at third--in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

"Steinmetz did a great job," Iwasaki said. "He had a great quality start. He really kept them off-balance, and he did a great job on the hill."

Freshman Ryan Yamane started Northern Colorado's fourth inning with a four-pitch walk, and Adam Hilker followed with a sharp single through the right side. Casey Coy then followed that with a walk, and the Bears were in business with the bases loaded and nobody out.

Tony Crudo couldn't quite keep the momentum going—he grounded into run-scoring double play—but Harrison Lambert picked him up with a two-out single to the left-center field gap that scored Hilker and tied the game.

Singles from freshmen Taylor Anderson and Dylan Banach followed, loading the bases and chasing Washington State starter Kyle Swannack (1-1), and Adrian Schenk greeted reliever Scott Simon with a walk.

Northern Colorado sent nine to the plate in the fourth inning and went to the bottom half with a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Hilker finished with a game-high three hits (3-4), and Coy, Crudo, Anderson, Banach and Schenk all had two hits apiece. Hilker and Coy both scored the Bears' runs in the seventh and eighth innings that put game out of reach.

Amedee sat Washington State down in order in the seventh and only ran into a little bit of trouble in the eighth when he allowed the first batter to reach on a single and then gave up his only run of the game a couple spots later when he surrendered a 3-1 double to right.