April 13, 2013

Willman gets a save and a win for Baseball on Saturday


GREELEY – It wasn't always pretty, but the Northern Colorado Baseball team swept a doubleheader against North Dakota on Saturday at Jackson Field, winning 5-2 and 4-3 to give the Bears a winning record for the first time all year.

The two wins move the team to 15-14 overall and more importantly, 6-1 in Great West Conference action. UND falls to 10-15-1 on the year and 1-6 in league play. The former NCC rivals conclude the series on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for noon.

"We're evolving," Coach Carl Iwasaki said. "I like this team. They're just a bunch of guys named Joe who will give themselves up for one another. We're playing good baseball. We're playing solid defense, pitching and we're getting timely hits. Sometimes we have to manufacture runs, but that's Bears baseball right now."

Sophomore Jensen Park (Kaneohe, Hawai'i) went 4-for-6 in the two games with a triple and a stolen base, while junior Colby Harrison (Cheyenne, Wyo.) was 3-for-6, had a pair of doubles and also swiped a bag.

All three of senior Dylan Banach's (Westminster, Colo.) hits were doubles as he was 3-for-9 with two runs scored.

"{Pitching coach} R.D. Spiehs -- he's got our pitchers confident and locked in right now," Iwasaki said. "They're living in the bottom of the strike zone and competing well."

Park went 2-for-2 and had two of the team's five runs to start the day, while Harrison was 2-for-3 and senior Brooks Schneider (Longmont, Colo.) accounted for two of the squad's four RBI.

Junior Chris Hammer (Greeley) won his third-straight game (3-2), throwing five innings and allowing only one run on two hits. He also walked three and struck out three. Junior Lucas Corrick (Lakewood, Colo.) pitched the sixth inning, allowing one run on two hits, while senior Kevin Willman (Aurora, Colo.) picked up his fifth save of the year, pitching a perfect seventh inning.

North Dakota took the early lead, scoring one run in the top of the first inning off two hits. The Bears immediately answered with two runs in the bottom half.

Sophomore Ryan Yamane (Honolulu, Hawai'i) singled back up the middle, Park walked on four straight pitches and junior Nick Miller (Loveland, Colo.) tied the game with a single to right field. With two outs, Schneider singled to left to plate Park and give the Bears a lead they'd never relinquish.

Park extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a single back up the middle with one out in the third. Miller reached on a dropped fly ball by the left fielder. Park stole third base and scored on a throwing error by the catcher, while Miller moved to second on the play. Harrison then singled past a diving third baseman and stole second with Schneider at the plate. Schneider hit a high-bouncing ground out to third to score Miller and double the Bears lead, 4-1.

Hammer set down 11 straight UND hitters before walking the bases loaded in the fifth, however, he got pinch hitter, Tyler Follis, to strike out to end the threat.

"I'm happy for Chris Hammer," Iwasaki said. "He's fresh and his arm's working right now. We had him on a pitch count today and he got the win. He competed and he's going to be real good."

Harrison doubled down the right field line to start things for the Bears in the fifth. He moved to third on a failed pickoff move by the relief pitcher, Reid Jungling, and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Bryan Tibbitts (Westminster).

North Dakota scored one run in the top of the sixth to close within three runs, 5-2, but Willman shut down any hopes of a comeback by retiring the side in order in the seventh.

The Bears scored one run in each of the final three innings to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the nightcap, 4-3.

Both Banach and Park had two hits in the game as the top three in the order recorded five of the team's six hits. Banach also scored two of the runs, while Park, Miller and sophomore Joe Love (Danville, Calif.) each had an RBI.

Senior Jake Johnson (Aurora, Colo.) pitched 4 1/3 innings for the Bears, allowing two earned runs (three total) on eight hits. He struck out six, but walked four. Fellow senior Ben Packard (Niwot, Colo.) threw the next 2 1/3 innings in shut out fashion. He walked one and fanned two before giving the ball over to Willman.

In his second appearance of the afternoon, Willman got the win (2-2), pitching the last 2 1/3 innings and giving up only one hit. He also walked one and struck out two.

North Dakota again put runs on the board first, getting three runs on four hits in the top of the first.

"When a team is down 0-2 in a series, they're going to let it fly," Iwasaki said. "They're going to swing as hard as they can and Jake Johnson got hit a little bit today because of that. The three runs were because they were a little ticked and luckily, they didn't score four.

Banach doubled down the left field line to start things off and scored on a single up the middle by Park to make the score 3-1 after one full inning. Park's hit stretched his career-best hitting streak to 15 contests.

With one out in the fourth, Harrison was hit by a pitch and Schneider walked for the second time. Junior Ben Netzel (Loveland) was also plunked, in the first pitch of his at bat, to load the bases, however the trio was stranded.

With runners on first and third in the top of the fifth, the coaches went to the bullpen and Packard came in and got the two UND hitters to line out to end the threat.

Harrison started the sixth with a double down the right field line, but was erased on a fielder's choice. Harrison was on third when Netzel hit a dribbler back to the pitcher, who chose to run down Harrison and allowed Netzel to get to second base. He scored on an error by the short stop off the bat of senior Harrison Lambert (Lenexa, Kan.) to make the score 3-2.

Banach led off the seventh with a double over the left fielder's head. Yamane squibbed a shot just to the right of the mound that the first baseman fielded and flipped to the pitcher, who dropped the ball to put runners on the corners. Miller hit a sacrifice fly to left to knot the score at 3-3.

In the eighth, Kris Kwak reached on an error by the Bears, but Lambert made a great defensive play to get Kwak at second. Follis bunted the ball and it went about two feet in front of the plate, which Lambert quickly picked up and gunned to Yamane at second for the out.

For the second time in the game, Netzel was hit by a pitch and looked to be out at second on a stolen base attempt, but the pitcher overthrew second, allowing Netzel to scamper to third. Lambert walked and freshman Rob Cashel (Park City, Utah) came in to pinch run for Netzel. Love put down the sacrifice bunt on a safety squeeze, to plate Cashel and give the Bears the 4-3 advantage.

"We said 'Let's go get the game,'" Iwasaki said. "Joe Love got the safety squeeze down and he got it down the first base line where they had no shot."

Willman came out in the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up the win and give the Bears the series win.

 "We just have guys that we can trust," Iwasaki said. "We can trust Kevin Willman. Kevin has that death stare, that eye where he's confident. That's from experience and Kevin is doing the job and I'm happy for him. The team is following each other right now and that's a good thing."