May 10, 2013

Willman breaks save record as Baseball beats UTPA

By HEATHER KENNEDY
UNCBears.com

GREELEY – The final home series of the year for the Northern Colorado Baseball team started on a high note as they defeated Texas-Pan American 6-4 on Friday afternoon at Jackson Field.

The Bears evened their season record at 22-22 and improved to 13-7 in Great West Conference action, moving within one game of first-place of the standings, which is currently held by the Broncs, who are now 22-25 overall and 14-6 in league play. The two teams continue the series with a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at noon and conclude the four-game set on Sunday at noon.

Junior Kevin Willman (Aurora, Colo.) earned his eighth save of the year, breaking the school's single season record for saves in a season, after pitching the final three innings in shutout fashion. Willman betters the previous record of seven held by both Josh Durant (1999) and Brennan Garr (2005).

Willman entered the game in the seventh after senior Jake Johnson (Aurora) pitched 5 1/3 innings and junior Robert Hawkins (Greeley) threw 2/3 of a frame. Johnson earned his fifth win of the year (5-3), allowing four earned runs on seven hits with one walk and one strikeout. Hawkins walked one but did not allow a hit, throwing 10 pitches to get the two outs.

"Knowing Kevin, he doesn't care a bit (about the record)," Coach Carl Iwasaki said. "He just says 'I wanna do what I can to help the team.' He's a beautiful story and it's still yet-to-be-written. He was a walk-on here and the younger brother of a super-star for us in Joe Willman {2008-12}, he was given an opportunity and he had adversity early. He's got another year to go and I'm looking forward to having him around for another year."

Northern Colorado scored all six of its runs in the first two innings, plating four in the first and two in the second for its fifth-consecutive win over the Broncs. Sophomore Ryan Yamane (Honolulu, Hawai'i) scored two of the runs, going 1-for-3 with a walk.

Junior Colby Harrison (Cheyenne, Wyo.) had the big hit of the day, tripling down the right field line in the first inning with the bases loaded for three RBI. He went 2-for-4 at the plate, while junior Ben Netzel (Loveland, Colo.) was 2-for-3.

"I think Street hung an off-speed pitch for Colby," Iwasaki said. "They were working him away, away, away and being pretty stringent with it, so good for Colby. He's a good power-side hitter and he's a big guy so they're not going to throw it in his kitchen. He and Miller are seeing the outer-half of the plate being worn out with soft stuff and he made them pay."

The Bears were able to get to one of the hottest pitchers in the Great West in Sam Street. He entered the game with just a 2.53 ERA and was 8-2 on the year. The Bears scored six runs (three earned) on seven hits, while Street walked three and struck out six. Matthew Harrell threw the final 1 1/3 inning and did not give up a hit.

"Street did a good job, he's a good arm," Iwasaki said. "He's deep into innings pitched, so we said 'Let's get him early.' That four and two (runs on the scoreboard) was beautiful but when you have the chance to put your foot on someone's throat, you go put them away. That four and two should have been 4-2-4-4-4."

Northern Colorado also snapped Riley Goulding's 19-game hitting streak as the senior was 0-for-4 on the day. Goulding did reach base however, as he was hit by a pitch in the third.

The Broncs struck first, scoring two runs on four hits in the top of the first inning.

Yamane hit the first pitch he saw to the first baseman, who mishandled the ball and put Yamane on base. With one out, junior Nick Miller (Loveland) drew a four pitch walk and Harrison tripled down the right field line to knot the score at 2-2. Junior Andrew Coffman (Davenport, Iowa) singled to center to plate Harrison, senior Ben Packard (Niwot, Colo.) reached on an error by the third baseman and Netzel bunted down the third baseline for a single to load the bases. Senior Brooks Schneider (Longmont, Colo.) grounded out, but Coffman scored to give the Bears a two-run lead, 4-2.

Johnson came back out to retire the side in order in the second frame. Yamane singled to left-center to start things for the second-straight inning and Park hit the first pitch he saw to right center. Street attempted to pickoff sophomore Jensen Park (Kaneohe, Hawai'i), but overthrew first base allowing Yamane to score. Harrison singled to center to score Park and extend the Bears lead to 6-2.

Johnson hit a batter and walked a guy in the third, but Schneider made a great play at third base, sliding into third to beat the runner for the final out.

The Broncs got two runs back in the top of the fourth inning off two hits for the 6-4 score. They also had the bases loaded in the sixth, but freshman Rob Cashel (Park City, Utah) made a pair of catches in centerfield to get the Bears out of the jam.

Netzel hit his second triple of the year with one out in the sixth, hitting it to straightaway center, but he was stranded on third.

The Bears worked out of another jam in the seventh with a heads up play by Yamane. With runners at first and second, Will Klausing hit a ground ball to junior Landon Moseley (Lawrence, Kan.) at second, who flipped to Yamane. He noticed he couldn't get the ball to first in time, but Alberto Morales rounded third and broke for home so Yamane threw to Coffman, who fired down to Schneider for the double play to keep the score at 6-4.

Willman retired the side in order in the eighth and ninth for his record-breaking save. The win is also the 15th in the last 16 meetings against Texas-Pan American.

"We've got our work cut out for us, but we're firing on all cylinders right now," Iwasaki said. "We control our own destiny and all we're looking to do is be an upper-third team going into the tournament and that's where we are. The kids are playing with good attitude, effort and emotion and it's fun to see."