by Lee Dorner (Sports Information Assistant)
March 29, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – Highlighted by a tremendous start from Toronto native Conor Lillis-White in game one and two big offensive outbursts in game two, the UBC Thunderbirds got a new win streak started with victories of 5-0 and 11-1 over the Menlo Oaks on Saturday at Thunderbird Park.
TEAM SCHEDULE: http://gothunderbirds.ca/schedule.aspx?path=baseball
The Thunderbirds showed no lasting effects from Menlo’s streak-killing comeback win in game one, and as has been the case so often this year, it was a starting pitcher who set the tone for them. Lillis-White shut the door on the Oaks in game one, going the distance for the first nine-inning complete-game shutout for a UBC pitcher this season.
“When you’re on a roll like we were, a lot of your warts don’t get exposed, so that was some adversity to deal with,” UBC head coach Terry McKaig said in reference to Friday’s loss. “That’s a big inning they hung on us there, and a bit of a challenge for us, but I thought we came out well today all around, and Conor really set the tone on the mound.”
This makes 19 straight scoreless innings for Lillis-White, who improves to 5-0 on the season. He also has 18 strikeouts and just two walks in his last two starts after struggling to control his walk rate earlier in the season.
Offensively, the ‘Birds chipped away with a run in the third on a Kevin Biro RBI single, and another in the fifth when Biro’s groundball induced a throwing error as the Oaks tried to turn a double play, allowing Aaron Horanski to score from second.
Then in the sixth, the ‘Birds put on a bunting clinic to manufacture three more insurance runs. After Bruce Yari started things with a single of the garden variety, Tyler Enns dropped a perfect bunt down on the third base side of the infield and beat the throw to first.
Next up was Matt Spillman, who basically duplicated Enns’ bunt and beat the throw to first easily. The throw also came in wide of the bag and Yari came around to score from second. Cam Firth then hit a sac fly to score another, and a balk led to the third run of the inning.
In game two, Jeremy Newton, another T-Bird from Toronto, had a couple game delays and constantly shifting rain and wind conditions to compete against as he slogged his way through six innings. He did a good job too, limiting the Oaks to one run on four hits, with six strikeouts.
“That’s not easy. I mean for any of these guys, these conditions are not ideal, when you have to deal with starts and stops and the mound getting a little slippery,” McKaig said. “So there’s a lot of stuff going on for these guys to handle but I think Jeremy handled those delays and did a nice job keeping his composure.”
UBC broke this one open with five-spots in the third and the fifth, aided by an error in both cases. The third inning rally started when the Oaks tried to come home on a ground ball with the bases loaded. It sailed high and wide to score the first two runs. Brody Hawkins and Bryan Arthur followed with RBI singles, and Horanski’s sac fly was number five.
In the fifth, Sebastian Wong’s groundball with the bases loaded brought the first run home. And when the Oaks tried to gun him down stealing second, the low throw skipped away and allowed Arthur to score from third.
Tyson Popoff, who was hitting in the two-spot rather than leading off as he has most of this season, hit a triple into left centre field to knock in another two runs, and then scored on a wild pitch. His on-base percentage and average had been dipping lately after his .400+ hitting season last year in the two-spot, so McKaig decided to put him back in his old role, and the plan definitely seemed to work. Popoff was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored in the game.
The ‘Birds also managed to tack on one more run in the bottom of the sixth, and Tyler Gillies closed the door in the top of the seventh to give the ‘Birds a quick victory as a result of leading by at least 10 after seven innings.
Arthur led the ‘Birds with a 5-for-9 day with one RBI. Yari also had another big day, going 4-for-7 day with one walk, continuing a recent tear that has his average up among the top three hitters on the team. McKaig says that all has to do with the first-year first baseman’s disciplined approach and patience at the plate.
“You’ll see him scream some foul balls over the left field fence, which means as a hitter he’s allowing the ball to travel deep like he should, and he hits balls back up the middle and doesn’t try to pull everything. He’s got a real good idea of what he’s trying to do up there, and he’s still a young guy and still figuring things out,” McKaig said.
UBC is now 21-6 overall and 12-3 in the conference. Menlo is 18-20 and 5-10. The teams wrap up the series with game four on Sunday at 11 a.m.