March 23, 2012

Jackrabbits' fourth too much for Raeber, Bears in opener

Carl Iwasaki postgame audio | Adrian Schenk postgame audio | Cameron Tallman postgame audio | Postgame notes

GREELEY -- Northern Colorado coach Carl Iwasaki rolled out another one of his talented freshmen on the mound Friday afternoon against South Dakota State, and righty Eian Raeber was dynamic at times in the Bears' 10-5 loss at Jackson Field.

Raeber (1-1), a first-year player out of Hanford, Calif., held the Jackrabbits (5-10-1) hitless into the third inning and seemed well on his way toward adding to his strong start this season that before the game had him with a 1.64 ERA.

The wheels came off a bit after he got the first out in the third, though, when Andrew Melton hit a home run to left that tied the game 1-1. SDSU then landed a couple more body blows in the fourth, tagging Raeber with three hits and four runs.

Josh Tinnon came on with an early-relief appearance and got the Bears' third out on a liner to center field, but the damage was done.

The Bears could never recover.

"The four-run fourth inning was one that got away from us," Iwasaki said. "We have to stay out of that big inning right there. Other than that, we've got to generate runs [tomorrow]. It's going to be a slugfest this weekend. I'm just warning you."

Senior Adrian Schenk continued his torrid start to the season with a 3-for-3 day, including two triples and a double. He started the week leading the NCAA in batting average at .511 and, after coming back to earth a little in the Bears' midweek series split at Nebraska, his effort Friday pushed him back to the .500 mark.

Iwasaki has said a few times this season that he was worried about Schenk even returning for his final year with the Bears, let alone be completely wearing out opposing pitchers.

Schenk has walked to the plate 54 times this season and gotten hits (27) or been walked (seven) 31 times for a sensational .538 on-base percentage.

"Is he really leading the nation?" Iwasaki asked coyly after the game. "[A] Northern Colorado rightfielder? Good for him. He's doing everything. I can't ask anything more from him. He wants to play the game—he so wants to play the game of baseball, and I've got a lot of guys in that dugout who are the same way, who want to play the game as hard as they can. They want in, but he's the guy who's getting it done. Whether he's leading the nation or not he's getting it done on the field."

Schenk's effort added to a nine-hit day for the Bears, but every time they started to show some signs of life the Jackrabbits would squelch a rally or put some runs of their own on the board.

South Dakota State scored each inning from the sixth on and got a dynamic start from Stephen Bougher (3-2), who threw 116 pitches in seven innings and allowed just three earned runs. He struck out four and walked four and kept Iwasaki's crew off-balance all game.

"He's there guy, he's their Friday guy, he's their No. 1," Iwasaki said. "He's crafty, and he moves the ball around very well. He's got a great breaking ball, and, basically, we chased it a couple times and then we decided to make an adjustment and stay off of it. Then he started coming over with it for a strike, and we had to make our adjustments. But, again, he beat us. Bottom line: he beat us."

Schenk's first hit, a triple down the right-field line, scored senior Adam Hilker who came around from first after singling to left, and the Bears led 1-0.

Freshman Jensen Park then led off the Bears' third with a triple to center, and the Bears capitalized with two runs, backing Raeber's early wobble. Freshman Ryan Yamane scored Park with a groundout to second, and Schenk scored a few batters later after he doubled and came around on a throwing error by South Dakota State catcher Zach Briggs.

After the Jackrabbits' fourth-inning outburst, Northern Colorado scored one in the fifth—Schenk tripled then scored on a wild pitch—and one in the eighth—senior Casey Coy scored after drawing a lead-off walk.

The Bears haven't lost a series in their past three tries, and they'll look to continue that run tomorrow with the second and third games of this four-game series set to be played in a doubleheader at noon. The contest will wrap up at noon Sunday.

"We've just got to come back out tomorrow," Iwasaki said. "I just told the kids we've got to shut it down, make our adjustments tonight and come back tomorrow. We're going to need to play our best baseball from inning one.

"To sweep four games is tough. They got us the first game; we've got to come back. If we're going to win the series we've got to win three games."

POSTGAME NOTES: Bears outfielder Adrian Schenk finished 3-for-3 Friday and raised his batting average to .500 on the season ... Schenk came into the week leading the nation in hitting ... His three hits Friday were a double and two triples ... Bears shortstop Adam Hilker came into the week second in the nation at hitting (then .500) but has fallen off a bit and is now hitting "only" .458 ... The Jackrabbits' four-run fourth inning was the difference Friday ... First-year freshman Eian Raeber held SDSU hitless through the first two innings ... SDSU's first hit was a homer to left from third baseman Andrew Melton ... Game 2 of this four-game series is set for noon tomorrow at Jackson Field ... Game 3 will follow, around 3:30.