April 18, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – The UBC Thunderbirds celebrated a big milestone for head coach Terry McKaig with a couple very convincing victories over the Simpson Redhawks on Friday by scores of 8-0 and 7-0 at Thunderbird Park.
With the sweep, UBC improves to 27-11 overall and 18-8 in the conference. They came into this series off a tough two-week road stretch, which they escaped with a one-game lead in the chase for home field advantage in the NAIA West Tournament. Now they can lock up hosting rights for the tourney with another sweep on Saturday, or with a win and at least one loss from Corban in their series against Lewis-Clark State.
“We did have a couple tough road weekends against two teams that are playing quite well right now in College of Idaho and Corban, so once we got through there we knew we had to use this weekend not only as a chance to wrap up home field, but also as a chance to get ready to be playing playoff baseball,” Mckaig said.
“We did a good job today and it started on the mound. Callegari and Lillis-White helping throw two shutouts gives your offence a lot of time to get things sorted out and I thought our approach was pretty good at the plate today. Simpson has pitchers that you have to sit back on a bit and go the other way or up the middle, and we had some good at-bats so it was a good day.”
The win in game one also marked number 500 in McKaig’s career as heading up Thunderbirds baseball. His overall record, which includes two seasons of exhibition play is now 501-332-1. Since UBC began play as a varsity program in the NAIA, McKaig is 467-287-1.
“That’s a milestone that a lot of college coaches look at and I’m really proud of getting to 500. That’s quite an accomplishment, and a lot of it goes to the players because those are the guys who win games for you, so it’s more of a testament to the program we’ve built here at UBC. I don’t do it very often, but today’s a day I can sit back a bit and be really proud of what we’ve done because 500 is a real accomplishment.”
The ‘Birds certainly gave McKaig a lot to be proud of on Friday, outscoring Simpson 15-0 on 31 total hits in the doubleheader. They also got two excellent starts from Conor Lillis-White and Sean Callegari to pave the way to a pair of shutout wins.
In game one, Lillis-White took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, where he recorded the first two outs before Kurtice Huffman managed to dunk a single into shallow right field to break it up. Lillis-White ended up just missing a second consecutive complete-game shutout and fourth for the season, as he went eight shutout innings, allowing just the one hit and three walks, with nine strikeouts, improving to 7-0 on the year.
“He’s continuing to do what he’s been doing for pretty much the whole year. As long as he throws strikes, he does not give up hits, whether it’s his deception or the breaking ball,” said McKaig. “He walked a guy in each of the first two innings, but then he just settled in. With him, when he’s missing it’s always missing up early in the game, maybe a little too amped up and ready to go. But he calmed down by the third or fourth inning, and when he gets down in the zone and starts using a little movement, he’s very tough.”
Alex Graham got into a bit of a jam in the ninth, walking two and giving up a single, but he worked his way out of trouble to preserve the shutout.
The ‘Birds did most of their damage with a two-out rally in the first inning. Bryan Arthur struck the first blow with a two-run single, and then Tyler Enns ripped a triple to cash in Arthur. Jerod Bartnik’s single up the middle brought Enns home to make it 4-0 UBC right out of the gate.
They added another two in the second inning, first on a Tyson Popoff RBI double and then on Bruce Yari’s RBI groundout to bring Popoff in. Bartnik had an RBI double in the seventh, and they tacked up the last run in the eighth on a Kevin Biro RBI fielder’s choice.
Game two saw another great start on the mound for UBC as the hit parade continued for them offensively. Callegari got the win, allowing four hits in six shutout innings. Curtis Taylor, Alex Webb and Matt Thornton each took care of one inning in relief to finish off the shutout.
Bruce Yari and Bryan Arthur each had RBI singles in the third inning to start the scoring. In the third, another two-out rally picked up three more runs. Popoff, Yari and Biro hit three singles in a row for the first two, and then Arthur doubled to drive in the third.
Biro drove in the final two runs as well, first in the sixth inning with a double in the gap, and then with a solid RBI single to right in the eighth. He finished with four hits in game two, and he was 5-for-10 on the day with five RBIs.
“He was our best hitter by far for the first seven or eight weeks of the season and then went in a tailspin over the last few weeks. Today he took some really great swings and in those last two at-bats he went the other way driving the ball. That’s a good sign because we need all these guys to be ready to go,” said McKaig.
Yari led all players with a 6-for-10 day at the dish plus one RBI. Popoff was 5-for -10 with two RBIs. Jerod Bartnik was 4-for-8 with three RBIs. Arthur was 4-for-8 with two walks and three RBIs.
UBC and Simpson finish off their series with another doubleheader starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The T-Birds will also be celebrating their senior players as they wrap up the regular season looking to secure home field advantage.