March 17, 2012

Balanced effort leads Baseball to another series win

Postgame notes

By SCOTT WARD
UNCBears.com

PARK CITY, Utah -- Northern Colorado Baseball smacked 14 hits Saturday against Southern Utah, scored 12 runs, committed no errors and got five innings of scoreless relief from its bullpen in a 12-5 victory at Thunderbird Park.

Adam Hilker went 4-for-4 with four RBIs and Tony Crudo, Adrian Schenk and Jensen Park had two hits apiece to help the Bears (5-8) take a road series for the second time in as many tries.

Freshman Eian Raeber also helped, earning the first win of his career (1-0) with five innings of three-hit, no-run relief, backing up starter Casey Coy who struggled a bit and gave up five runs on six hits in four innings.

Schenk ended up hitting .615 (8-15) in the Bears' three games against the Thunderbirds (3-15), and senior Adam Hilker (.533) and freshman Jensen Park (.500) were right behind.

As a team, Northern Colorado hit .374 in the series and has now won five games in the past two weeks.

"The kids showed up today to play," Bears coach Carl Iwasaki said. "We had a strong, strong offensive day today, led by Hilker, Crudo, Schenk and Park, and Raeber gave us a big lift out of the pen.

"We hit the ball well yesterday but didn't do some other things well. It was a great team win today. We'll take it. We'll take it one week at a time—one series at a time—but we've been pretty good offensively all season, and getting 12 runs on 15 hits today … If we continue like this, we have a chance to be in every game. That's what we learned from this weekend."

Southern Utah got to Coy early, with three runs in the bottom of the first inning, and the Bears responded with two in the second before blowing the game open with a six-run third.

The Thunderbirds got two back in the bottom of the third but didn't score again.

The Bears got some insurance runs with three in the fifth and one in the seventh.

But, the difference was that third inning, where Northern Colorado sent 11 to the plate, got five hits and scored its six. Hilker led off the inning with an infield single to short, and he came up again later in the frame and singled again, getting an RBI that at-bat as freshman Ryan Yamane, who reached with a single, scored from third.

In between, Schenk walked, Coy Walked, Crudo singled to right (scoring two), Brooks Schneider walked, Dylan Banach reached on an infield single, Park hit an RBI single up the middle, and Yamane got his single, scoring Banach.

The outburst set the stage for Raeber, a freshman from Hanford, Calif., who got the call in Southern Utah's fifth and didn't disappoint.

He wobbled at first, giving up two singles in four Thunderbirds at-bats, setting up a first-and-third situation with two outs, but coaxed a grounder to second for the third out and allowed just one more hit in the next three innings.

For the season, Raeber has allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings (1.64 ERA) and has allowed opponents to hit just .238 against him.

"Raeber was really good today," Iwasaki said. "He threw strikes and controlled the game. You can see his confidence growing with each outing, and he came in in a big spot today and got us through this series. I'm always going to lean the veterans, but when they need a lift, their teammates need to be there to get them."

Now, with a second series victory under their belts, the Bears will turn their attention toward another "Big 6" conference opponent this week when they travel to Lincoln, Neb., to take on the Big 10 Conference Cornhuskers in a Tuesday-Wednesday series. Nebraska (13-6 entering Saturday afternoon) is led by former Major League Baseball star Darin Erstad and are 7-2 at home this season.

Northern Colorado faced Nebraska three times last season and came up short in all three, falling 12-8 on a neutral field at the Sam Houston State, and then losing a pair in Lincoln. The Bears will enter with confidence, after they beat Washington State (Pac-12) in a game earlier this season in Pullman, Wash.

"Now we've got a 10-hour bus ride back home, and then we'll head out to Nebraska," Iwasaki said. "We're looking forward to competing against a big-conference team again. We've gotten back on track a little over these past two weeks, so now we'll see how we measure up."

NOTES: Northern Colorado's victory gave it a series victory for the second straight weekend … Senior Adrian Schenk hit .615 (8-15) in the Bears' three games against the Thunderbirds, and senior Adam Hilker (.533) and freshman Jensen Park (.500) were right behind … As a team, Northern Colorado hit .374 … The Bears had a 4.85 earned-run average during the series, with three pitchers (Eian Raeber, Jess Amedee and Joe Willman) all going at least four innings without allowing an earned run … Northern Colorado will next play at Nebraska on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 20 and 21, in Lincoln.