April 21, 2013

Baseball again run-rules Highlanders

By HEATHER KENNEDY
UNCBears.com

GREELEY – The Northern Colorado Baseball team used all three facets of the game to wrap up the series against NJIT with a second-straight run-rule contest, winning 15-5 in seven innings.

The Bears (18-16, 9-3 Great West Conference) took three of four from NJIT (14-21, 6-6 GWC) and had all nine hitters on base again for the second-straight contest.

"This was our best series that we've played this year," Coach Carl Iwasaki said. "In a four game series, to take three from a pretty good ball club here, is good. Our defense and pitching was solid and we had timely hits throughout."

Junior Nick Miller (Loveland, Colo.) got the win on the hill, pitching 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits, walking just one and striking out three. On offense, he went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and a pair of doubles.

"Nick is a fighter. He'll do it on the mound or at the plate. He hits best when he's pitching from what I'm hearing, so I'm just going to pitch him every game – he can pitch the next 40 games if he wants to," Iwasaki said jokingly. "Nick's a competitor and the reason why we love that guy is he never takes a pitch off."

Senior Kevin Willman (Aurora, Colo.) took over for the final out of the fifth inning, pitching the final 2 1/3 innings in shutout fashion to earn his sixth save of the year. Willman faced nine batters, fanning two, while two managed hits.

Junior Andrew Coffman (Davenport, Iowa) started his first game behind the dish all year and exploded at the plate, going 4-for-5 with five RBI and two runs scored. Coffman also had the winning single in the seventh, blasting a shot to right field.

"Right now, it's all coming together," Iwasaki said. "Andrew Coffman has been wanting this opportunity for a month and we've got veteran catchers in front of him, but here's a rookie from Iowa who comes in and controls the game. He controlled Miller and went 4-for-5 with a bunch of key RBIs."

Sophomore Jensen Park (Kaneohe, Hawai'i) had three hits on the day, including his first home run of the year and junior Ben Netzel (Loveland) was 2-for-3 with four RBI and two stolen bases.

Like they did in both games on Saturday, NJIT scored first, tallying two runs on one hit with one UNC error in the top of the first.

Netzel walked to start the third inning, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by senior Dylan Banach (Westminster, Colo.). Sophomore Ryan Yamane (Honolulu, Hawai'i) singled through the right side for the team's first run of the game and the 2-1 tally on the scoreboard.

Miller retired the side in order in the top of the fourth and then started things offensively with a double to right-center. Junior Colby Harrison (Cheyenne, Wyo.) roped a single just past a diving first baseman to plate Miller and knot the score at 2-2. Sophomore Joe Love (Danville, Calif.) reached on an error by the shortstop and Coffman hit a bloop single to right to load the bases. Netzel scorched a single to left center to score two and junior Landon Moseley (Lawrence, Kan.) laid down a great bunt in an attempt to sacrifice, but Moseley beat the throw for a single to again load the bags. Banach hit a sacrifice fly to straight-away center to score Coffman and knock out NJIT's starter. Yamane followed with a sacrifice fly to left for the fifth run of the inning and Moseley stole second base.

A three-run homer by NJIT's Matt Weckerle in the fifth brought the Highlanders back within one run, 6-5.

Miller started the second consecutive inning at the plate, this time singling to right. Harrison singled up the middle and Love walked to load the bases. Coffman doubled down the left field line on a high bouncing grounder that went right over the top of the third baseman to score two and Netzel followed with a single through the right side to plate two more. Netzel stole second but was thrown out attempting to steal third. Banach singled back up the middle and promptly swiped second, but was stranded with the Bears leading 10-5.

Park kicked off the sixth inning with a single to center and Miller followed with his third-straight hit of the game, this one a double off the left field wall. Harrison was issued a four-pitch walk to load the bags for the third-straight inning and Love drew his second-straight base on balls for an RBI. Coffman singled through the right side for another two RBI and a walk to Moseley signaled the end of the day for relief pitcher Ian Bentley. NJIT brought in Frank Shivers for the second time in the series and he hit Banach to load the bags again with two outs.

Willman retired the Highlanders in order in the top of the seventh to let his offense get back to work and Park hit his first home run of the season, clearing the left field wall. Miller followed with a single to center and freshman Rob Cashel (Park City, Utah) entered to pinch run for him. Harrison grounded back to the pitcher, who attempted to get Cashel out at second, but overthrew the bag for the second error of the game for NJIT. Coffman ended the game with a single to right field for the 10-run rule end of game, 15-5.

"This is what UNC Baseball is all about," Iwasaki said. "Taking opportunities when called upon."