by Lee Dorner (Sports Information Assistant)
March 23, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – After narrowly pulling off a rain-soaked game one win on Saturday, the UBC Thunderbirds took advantage of a sunny Sunday to sweep through their tripleheader of seven-inning games against the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls by scores of 9-0, 2-1 and 5-1 at Thunderbird Park.
UBC outscored Oregon Tech 20-5 in the series, improving to 18-5 overall and 10-2 in the NAIA West league. That puts them in first place, one game up on Lewis-Clark State. The T-Birds also extend their win streak to 12 overall and 10 conference games.
T-Birds head coach Terry McKaig said he was happy with the team effort, especially factoring in Saturday’s tough weather conditions and the grind of a tripleheader Sunday, as well as the adjustment to the distractions of playing at home after such a long road-only stretch to start the season.
“We pitched it pretty well all day, and played defence. Turned a lot of double plays to get us out of jams. And in two of the games, we broke it open offensively. Kind of a tough one in the middle there today, but that’s going to happen with that many innings in a row, so overall I was pretty happy with our weekend.”
Conor Lillis-White got the start in game one of the tripleheader, and the Toronto native went the distance in the seven-inning affair, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning before a single by Alex Antonaras broke it up. He finished just one batter over the minimum, with 10 strikeouts and one hit allowed to move to 4-0 on the year. He also had just one walk after having some command issues in his last couple starts.
“That’s been what he’s struggled with. Nobody really hits him very hard and it’s not like he’s giving up eight or nine hits a game. It’s always just the walks, which to are counted the same as hits,” said McKaig. “Conor did a nice job today just attacking with his fastball, and his breaking ball has gotten so much better. It’s a devastating strikeout pitch now which he showed today, and we’re really happen for him.”
Offensively, the T-Birds made it a bit of a cakewalk in game one. They had seven walks in total, with six of those free passes being issued in the third inning alone. By the time the music stopped, the T-Birds had five runs on just one hit in the third inning, ending Oregon Tech starter Chase Meister’s day early. UBC also had two runs in the second, one in the fifth and one in the sixth to give them a total of nine runs on just seven hits in the 9-0 romp.
Game two saw a quality start from Jeremy Newton turn into a no-decision, as he left in the fifth inning, allowing no earned runs and five hits, with four strikeouts. He had a 1-0 lead heading into the fifth, but after Curtis Taylor inherited one of Newton’s runners on third base, a passed ball allowed the tying run to score.
Meanwhile the T-Birds had only just broken up a no-hitter for Oregon Tech’s Darian Benanua in the fifth inning, eventually leading to that lone run. But they managed to chase him from the game with two straight singles in the sixth, setting up a first-and-third with one out situation.
Jerod Bartnik stole second, and Kevin Biro took off for home on the throw, but the throw back to home beat him for the second out of the inning. Fortunately, it didn’t end up making a difference, as Matt Spillman smacked a single into right centre field which scored Bartnik as the winning run.
Taylor shut the Owls down over the last two innings to get the win, allowing one hit and striking out one.
And the strong pitching continued for UBC in game three, as Bryan Pawlina gave them four scoreless innings to start, followed by two scoreless innings from Alex Webb, who gets credit for the win. Matt Thornton gave up a run on one hit and one walk in the seventh to round out the day for the ‘Birds.
“We’ve been talking a lot about efficiency and pitch counts,” McKaig said. “We’re a little bit thin in the bullpen just in terms of number of guys, so these seven-inning games helps a bit with guys going deep into games and Conor getting us the complete game to give the bullpen a rest. And I think more than anything, we have to remember that when you’re playing on a field like this, there’s no reason to be too fine. You just need to throw strikes and let people put it in play, and it’s a tough ballpark to score in. That’s what we did well this weekend – attack their hitters and throw the ball over the plate and get it put in play early.”
The ‘Birds didn’t wait long to break this one open offensively, as Bruce Yari got things started in the first inning by driving a double into the left field corner for two RBIs. He was brought home by a Tyler Enns single. And another Yari double in the third inning set up another scoring opportunity for Enns, as he tripled into the same corner in left for two more RBIs.
Yari finished the game 3-for-3 and was 5-for-9 in the series with four walks and four RBIs. He also flashed some serious extra-base potential with two doubles and a triple.
“Great day for him today with a couple doubles and triples,” McKaig said. “That’s big from a redshirt freshman. It seems like every game we have at least four or five guys really swinging the bats well, and that’s going to help.”
Biro continued his hitting rampage with a 5-for-12 series with two walks and an RBI. Spillman was 4-for-9 with three walks and an RBI. Cam Firth did a nice job filling in at catcher for the injured Brody Hawkins, going 4-for-7 with four RBIs.
Next up for UBC are the Menlo Oaks, who will make the trip north for a four-game set next weekend. The T-Birds and Oaks will clash on Friday, March 28 at 3 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday at noon and game four on Sunday at 11 a.m. All games are at Thunderbird Park.