March 21, 2012

Baseball rallies in eighth to run past Big Ten-power Huskers

Postgame notes

By SCOTT WARD
UNCBears.com

GREELEY -- ­Northern Colorado Baseball coach Carl Iwasaki has said all season that his team has the ability to play with and beat any team on its schedule.

After the Bears' 6-4 road victory Wednesday afternoon against national-power Nebraska, maybe it's time to consider Iwasaki's words more than just "coach speak."

Northern Colorado (6-9) sent 10 batters to the plate in the eighth inning Wednesday, scored four runs on four hits and turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead at Hawks Field. Relief pitcher Chris Hammer, who came on in the bottom of the seventh, then limited the Huskers (15-8) to one run the rest of the way to earn his first victory of the season (1-0).

The win improved the Bears record this season to an impressive 2-3 against FBS-level programs, with their other victory coming earlier this month at Washington State. The win was also just the Bears' third ever against Nebraska (2006, 2009) and their seventh against FBS-level teams since transitioning to NCAA Division I in 2007.

Northern Colorado also defeated Arizona State (Pac-10 now Pac-12) in 2008, Texas A&M (Big 12) twice in 2008 and Kansas (Big 12) in 2007.

"This was a great day for the Bears with another great team win," Iwasaki said. "A lot of dynamics went into this win, especially with pitching and defense. Those are our building blocks, and they were on full display today. I'm really proud of these guys. Our future is bright."

Senior Adrian Schenk actually started Northern Colorado's half of the eighth with a hard-luck liner to second base, but Casey Coy followed with a two-strike single up the middle to spark the Bears' rally.

Coy quickly advanced to second on a passed ball, and Tony Crudo drew a four-pitch walk. After a pitching change, Taylor Anderson, who's dad Mike was recently a longtime coach of the Huskers, sent the first pitch he saw cleanly to center field to score Coy, tie the game at 3-3, and move Crudo to second.

Eric Ferguson followed with a walk to load the bases, and Derek Baum followed suit in the next at-bat, drawing an RBI walk to give the Bears the lead.

Freshman Jensen Park, who led the Bears at the plate with a 3-for-5 effort and has now hit safely in 11 of the Bears' 14 games this season, then shot an RBI single through the right side that scored Anderson for the game-winning run.

Freshman Ryan Yamane followed with a insurance-run RBI single in the next at-bat, and the Bears led 6-3.

Northern Colorado took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on an Adam Hilker triple to right that scored Park, and then it went ahead 2-0 in the third on Schenk's sacrifice fly to center that scored—who else?—Park.

"Our offense was really good in the eighth," Iwasaki said. "That's the reason we won, but we were still in the game at that point because of our defense. We had numerous tough plays on defense that really kept us in it."

Nebraska manufactured a run to pull within 2-1 in the fourth and then took its 3-2 lead in the sixth on a two-run homer to left from Pat Kelly.

Hammer hit the first batter he faced in the ninth, setting the stage for a possible collapse, but minimized the damage by inducing a come-back grounder, giving up a no-harm RBI single and then getting a strike out and a foul out to end the game.

Jess Amedee started on the mound for Northern Colorado and pitched well. He walked three to just one strikeout but limited the damage with just one run allowed on three hits in his four innings.

Nate Steinmetz, who earned the victory in the Bears' earlier win at Washington State, allowed the homer to Kelly but refocused and didn't allow any further damage.

"Amedee had a strong four-inning showing, giving up one run," Iwasaki said. "Steinmetz gave up the homer but kept us in it and Hammer did a great job with run prevention.

"This was just a great, complete team win, and we'll, obviously, take it. It doesn't matter if [we're playing] against the Big 10, Pac-12, Big 12, Great West … whatever. We know we've got a great chance to be in every game this season, and we keep proving that. This is a great group we've got here."

POSTGAME NOTES: Northern Colorado earns second win this season vs. FBS-level program … The Bears defeated Washington State (Pac-12) earlier in the year (7-3) … Wednesday's victory was just the third for the Bears against Nebraska and first in three seasons (10-7 win on March 25, 2009) … The win was Northern Colorado's seventh against FBS-level teams since transitioning to NCAA Division I (Kansas, 2007; Arizona State, 2008; Texas A&M twice in 2008; Nebraska, 2009; Washington State, Nebraska, 2012) … Northern Colorado scored four runs in the eighth and held on for the win ... The Bears had scored six runs combined in their previous 13 eighth innings this season and just 12 in the eighth inning or later … The win pushed Northern Colorado to the .500 mark on the road this season (4-4).