May 3, 2013

Crooked fifth inning helps Baseball to victory


GREELEY – A four-run fifth inning lifted the Northern Colorado Baseball team past Utah Valley on Friday, snapping a nine-game losing streak against the Wolverines. The Bears won 4-2 in the first of a four-game series.

The Bears evened their overall record at 20-20 and improved to 11-5 in Great West Conference play, while the Wolverines fell to 18-23 on the year and 9-4 in league action. The two teams play a doubleheader beginning at noon on Saturday and conclude the set on Sunday at noon.

Senior Jake Johnson (Aurora, Colo.) pitched a gem of a game for the Bears, allowing just two runs on five hits with six strikeouts and no outs in 7 2/3 innings. Junior Robert Hawkins (Greeley) struck out the only batter he faced to conclude the eighth and junior Kevin Willman (Aurora) threw a scoreless ninth for his seventh save of the year.

"Jake Johnson did a great job," Coach Carl Iwasaki said. "We've seen glimpses of it in the past and he'd kind of gotten away from it in the last two starts, but it was back again. He was care free, just letting the ball just tumble. He was down in the zone, challenging the hitters and getting ahead in the count. He was letting his defense work for him and that's when Jake is good."

Willman's seven saves tie the Northern Colorado single-season record with Brennan Garr (2005) and Josh Durant (1999).

The Bears scored their four runs on seven hits with one UVU error, while the Wolverines scored two runs on five hits with two UNC miscues. For the second straight game, Northern Colorado did not draw a walk and the pitching staff walked just one. In the last four home conference games, the pitching staff has walked just two batters.

Junior Colby Harrison (Cheyenne, Wyo.) kept his bat alive, going 2-for-4 to stretch his hitting streak to eight-straight games. Fellow junior Nick Miller (Loveland, Colo.) also extended his hitting streak to nine consecutive games after going 1-for-4 with one RBI.

Sophomore Ryan Yamane (Honolulu, Hawai'i), senior Derek Baum (San Diego, Calif.) and junior Landon Moseley (Lawrence, Kan.) also each had a hit and RBI for the Bears, all coming in the fifth frame.

In the first inning, Johnson started all five batters with a strike and the Wolverines scored one run on three hits, but Johnson got Colby Croft to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Harrison broke up the no hitter in the fourth inning with a perfect bunt down the third-base line.

In the fifth, junior Ben Netzel (Loveland) led off with a double to left center and Baum traded places with him after doubling to right center for the Bears' first run of the day. Moseley singled past a diving third baseman and Yamane doubled down the right field line. With two outs, Miller singled back up the middle and Harrison hit a bloop single to left for six hits in the frame. The Bears plated four to give Johnson a 4-1 advantage.

Johnson retired 17 of 19 Wolverine batters from the end of the first through the seventh, when Greyston Bogden singled to centerfield. He came around to score on a single up the middle by Willie Pratt. With two outs, Pratt attempted to steal second, but Baum gunned him down at second for the final out and the 4-2 score.

"Derek, he's a battler and a workhorse," Iwasaki said. "He's a great catcher and unfortunately, he's been out of the lineup after being a ball magnet, but he's capable. The key was Netzel hitting that ball that on a normal day would have cleared the power plant and then Baum following with that gapper."

Willman came out of the bullpen for the ninth inning and looked a little shaky at first, throwing seven of his first nine pitches for balls. He settled down, however, as eight of his final 11 pitches were strikes as he induced a pop up and a pair of groundouts for his seventh save.

"This is pretty good ball club we're playing," Iwasaki said. "They've had years of success and they're still good. We've got to prevent them from moving forward."