March 9, 2012

Bullpen, Packard lead Baseball past UNO in series opener

Carl Iwasaki postgame audio | Ben Packard postgame audio | Adam Hilker postgame audio

By SCOTT WARD
UNCBears.com

GREELEY -- Cameron Tallman and Jess Amedee were solid out of the bullpen Friday, and Ben Packard hit a three-run homer in the fifth that put the Bears on top for good in a 9-5 win against Nebraska Omaha at Jackson Field.

Tallman pitched two innings in relief of starter Joe Willman and didn't allow a run and struck out two.

Amedee then tossed two no-hit innings in place of Tallman and struck out one to pick up his second save in as many chances.

And Packard's blast in the bottom of the fifth turned a 5-4 deficit into an 8-5 lead, and the Bears (2-6) tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when freshman Ryan Yamane led off the inning with a walk and later scored on a UNO fielding error.

The comeback allowed Willman (1-2) to win for the first time this season, despite giving up five runs in five innings in his 24th career start.

The comeback also gave the Bears their first win at home this season, in a game that harkened back to a few years ago, when NCAA teams used all-aluminum bats and Jackson Field was a launching pad and home to many high-scoring ballgames.

Friday's game, played with a now-regulation composite bat that's in play across the country, featured 13 runs and four home runs through the first five innings.

The Bears and the Mavericks (2-11) will continue and wrap up this series at 11 a.m. tomorrow with a doubleheader at Jackson Field.

"We'll take [the runs]," Northern Colorado coach Carl Iwasaki said. "We've been hitting the ball hard. Two weeks ago I said, 'We're hitting the ball hard, we're [just] hitting them at people.' Two weeks later we're still hitting the ball hard, [but] now we're generating runs.

"We scored in five of nine innings, and that's key. That's what we've been working on, and the kids have bought into that."

After a bring-em-up, sit-em-down top of the first for Willman, Adam Hilker got the Bears on the board in the bottom of the first with his and Northern Colorado's first home run of the season. He took a two-out, 2-1 pitch from Nebraska Omaha starter Matt Tew (0-2) and sent it over the fence in deep left field.

Casey Coy then followed Hilker's blast with a double to left-center before Tony Crudo grounded out to short.

The early score was a sign of things to come, as the Mavericks' Alex Mortensen answered Hilker's shot with a two-run blast in the second, before Crudo quickly tied it at 2-2 with another homer in the bottom of the second.

Packard put the Bears ahead 3-2 later in the inning with an unearned run off a Dylan Banach RBI single, but UNO scored two more in the third, making it 4-3, and, after Jensen Park's triple to left scored Packard in the fourth to tie it for UNC, the Mavericks scored for the last time and went ahead 5-4 on Colby McCord's RBI single to right.

But Willman still got the win for his effort, thanks to Packard, who turned on the first pitch he saw in the fifth and sent it deep over the left-center field wall.

Casey Coy and Tony Crudo scored on the shot, and the Bears never trailed again.

"That's the old Jackson, and the old style of play," Iwasaki said, "but we're not going to go station to station. We can't rely on the big home run. If Packard doesn't hit that we're one-run lead going into the ninth.

"So, we've got things to work on and it's game one [of this series]. We've got two to play tomorrow."

Yamane led off the eighth with a four-pitch walk—he was aided by a first-pitch ball called after UNO's Zach Willamsen was called for a delay of game—and, after Hilker struck out, Yamane stole second to get in scoring position with one out.

Adrian Schenk quickly pushed him to third with a taggable fly-out to center field, and Yamane put the Bears up four when Coy reached on a fielding error by Nebraska Omaha third baseman Tyler Splichal.

"I told [assistant] Coach [Pat] Perry in inning [eight], I said, 'One,'" Iwasaki said, "and when we say, 'One,' we're going to score one. We had to. We had a three-run lead, [and that] would extend it to four, maybe five, and put the game away.

"Yamane had a great at-bat, and then he stole second base, and we scored. That's big, and that's how we're going to play. That's Bears Baseball, and that's how we're going to play now. We're not going to rely on the big home-run balls. That's our offensive plan, that's our hitting plan.

"And [we want to] take care of defensive errors as well. [UNO] made four, and we made zero. That's Bears Baseball. Pitching and defense."