May 2, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – Working with a one-run cushion for almost the entire outing, Conor Lillis-White earned his fourth complete-game shutout of the season on Friday as the UBC Thunderbirds clipped the Menlo Oaks 3-0 to move on to the tournament semifinals while the Oaks drop into the loser bracket.
After UBC went ahead 1-0 in the first inning, it started to look like further scoring might not be in the cards. The T-Birds were swinging well, but they had six hard infield lineouts and a number of well-hit but not so well placed fly balls that kept them from doing any scoreboard damage.
It wasn’t until the top of the ninth that they managed to break through, with a Brody Hawkins single and Jerod Bartnik setting Tyler Enns up with two outs and a golden opportunity. He made it count by dropping a ball into left centre that scored both runners to give Lillis-White some breathing room to close things out.
“I’m really proud of the guys, because that game was starting to have an eerie feel to it,” said UBC head coach Terry McKaig. “We hit a lot of balls right on the screws and right at guys, and as the game goes on you’re thinking about that as a coach, and I know it’s in their heads too, so I give the guys a lot of credit because they stuck with it and the good at-bats kept happening. It wasn’t like they were trying to do too much out there, and then in the ninth we get a little break with a ball that kind of drops in for Tyler Enns‘ big hit.”
Enns finished 3-for-4 on the day to lead UBC offensively.
As for Lillis-White, who entered the game with the second-best ERA in the entire NAIA, it took some time for him to find the groove after the Oaks made some solid contact against him early on, but he settled into business as usual, moving to 8-0 in the year with his fourth shutout. He allowed seven hits and two walks, striking out seven.
“They actually had a good approach against him, and I think he was a little up in the zone in the first half of the game especially, and they were getting some good swings off his fastball, but he’s just come so far,” said McKaig. “There were points in the game where he could have started to waver a bit, but he has this belief in himself that he’s never had before and I’m really happy for him because he’s worked hard for this and it’s nice to see him getting what he deserves.”
As good as Lillis-White’s performance and as timely as Enns’ hit were, the play of the game goes to left fielder Sebastian Wong. In the seventh inning with the T-Birds up 1-0, a runner on second and two out, Daniel Comstock singled to left and the Oaks third base coach was waving the runner home all the way. Wong fielded it cleanly and came up throwing, firing a one-hop strike to the plate to gun down the would-be tying run by a split second.
“If there’s such thing as a weapon of a left fielder, he’s it,” McKaig said of his senior outfielder. “He’s got such an accurate arm and he can get rid of it quick, and he’s done that a lot for us. That was such a critical spot, and give him a lot of credit because a couple year’s ago he didn’t have the arm to make that throw, but he works at his game and it’s nice to see it pay off for a kid like that.”
The T-Birds were technically the visitors for this first round game, and they got things going immediately in the top of the first with a couple hits right out of the gate by Matt Spillman and Tyson Popoff. Bruce Yari then grounded into a double play to bring the first run across. Although the ‘Birds managed to get some insurance late in the game, McKaig said that opening run was crucial to settle the team down.
“That first inning was a key to the game – getting two base hits and scoring the run. It was one of those games where if we had been going 0-0 things really start to get tight and that first run in the first inning really helped and let guys relax a bit.”
Bartnik was 2-for-4 with a run scored. Other UBC hits came from Spillman, Popoff, Hawkins and Wong. Comstock led the Oaks with a 3-for-4 game.
Kyer Vega also went the distance in a losing effort for the Oaks, allowing three runs on nine hits and a walk, with no strikeouts.
The Oaks will play next on Saturday at 4 p.m., needing a win to stay alive in the double-knockout tournament. The T-Birds play the Corban Warriors on Saturday at 1 p.m., with the winner moving on to Sunday’s finals. The loser will still be alive in the tournament, but would face an extra game before reaching the finals.