May 16, 2013

Win secures top-two spot for baseball at Great West Tournament

By HEATHER KENNEDY
UNCBears.com

PATCHOGUE, N.Y. -- A career-best nine strikeouts for Northern Colorado pitcher Jake Johnson lifted Northern Colorado past New York Institute of Technology 8-3 on Thursday, in the first of a four-game series.

Johnson, a senior from Aurora, Colo., fanned nine NYIT batters through eight innings, bettering his previous career-high of six strikeouts against both North Dakota and Utah Valley earlier this season.

He improved to 6-3 on the year after allowing three runs on six hits with three walks. Junior Josh Wagner (Newhall, Calif.) pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out two to preserve the victory.

The 11 combined strikeouts ties for the most by the Northern Colorado pitching staff this season, as the Bears also had 11 K's against Adams State on March 26.

Northern Colorado is now 26-22 overall and 17-7 in Great West Conference play, while NYIT falls to 10-42 overall and 8-17 in league action. NC scored its eight runs on 10 hits with one NYIT error, while NYIT scored three times on seven hits with one NC error.

NYIT announced that Saturday's doubleheader would begin 30 minutes prior to the original scheduled time. Game one will now start at 11:30 am (ET) with game two starting approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game. The two Bears' teams will wrap up the series on Saturday, starting at noon.

Northern Colorado is guaranteed either the first or second seed at the Great West Conference Tournament, which begins Tuesday, May 21 in Newark, New Jersey. Houston Baptist and NJIT split a doubleheader earlier in the afternoon, knocking the Huskies out of contention for the regular season title. Only Northern Colorado and Utah Valley still remain in the hunt for the final crown. The Wolverines are at Texas-Pan American and begin the four-game series Thursday evening.

Junior Colby Harrison (Cheyenne, Wyo.) went 3-for-5 at the plate, while both sophomore Jensen Park (Kaneohe, Hawai'i) and junior Ben Netzel (Loveland, Colo.) were 2-for-4.

Netzel and senior Derek Baum (San Diego) each had three RBI to lead the team, while junior Andrew Coffman (Davenport, Iowa) scored three runs.

The team was extremely patient at the plate, drawing seven walks and eight of the nine in the original lineup were on base at least once.

NYIT scored two runs in the bottom of the first off two hits and a Northern Colorado error for the early 2-0 advantage.

The Bears immediately tied the score in the top of the second. With one out, Coffman and Netzel drew back-to-back walks and advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch to Baum. Baum then singled to right-center, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

Robert Loftus singled with two outs in the bottom of the second for NYIT, but Baum gunned him down attempting to steal second for the final out of the frame.

With one out in the third, Park doubled off the wall in left-center and junior Nick Miller (Loveland) struck out on a wild pitch, but reached first base as the ball skittered past the catcher. NC took the lead when Harrison doubled to right field to plate Park. Coffman kept things going with a single to right and Netzel doubled off the right field wall, narrowly missing his second home run of the year, to clear the bases and give the Bears the 6-2 lead.

Johnson retired the side in order in the third and struck out two. He added two more strikeouts in the fourth, but Nick Sebastian hit a home run to cut Northern Colorado's lead to three, 6-3.

With one out in the fifth, Coffman drew a four pitch walk and Netzel slammed a triple to left center to get the run immediately back. Baum hit a deep sacrifice fly to center to plate Netzel and stretch the lead to five, 8-3.

Johnson walked the leadoff batter, but got a flyout and then forced Ali Rodriguez into a 6-4-3 double play to end the fifth inning with the minimum three batters faced. Johnson added one strikeout en route to retiring the side in order in the sixth and he needed just seven pitches to set NYIT down in order in the seventh inning.