VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds baseball team is looking to bounce back from a disappointing weekend as it hosts a four-game home conference series against the Menlo College Oaks in Vancouver at Thunderbird Park.
Currently, the ‘Birds are 29-10 overall and 12-4 in the NAIA West Grouping standings, tied for first Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho). Menlo (27-14 overall) is sixth at 8-8 in league play.
“Last weekend was really dissatisfying,” said UBC head coach Terry McKaig. “We didn’t take advantage of any of the momentum we built from Game 1 and 2 that Friday—arguably our best two games of the season—and it all comes back to consistency. At this point in the season, with about three weeks left until the playoffs, it’s really about fighting for that confidence. Guys right now are trying to figure out who’s going to step forward and carry the team over the next month.”
Menlo comes to Thunderbird Park riding an impressive offensive wave that the ‘Birds best catch should they wish to grab this weekend by the horns. The Oaks are on a five-game winning streak, having swept a four-game series against Simpson University by a 63-27 margin.
Reigning NAIA West Red Lion Player of the Week, converted left-handed pitcher Alex Tenorio, whose two-way play is leading the Oaks on offence and defence. Last weekend he had three home runs – including a grand slam – and drove in 18 runs.
The Thunderbirds have had similar offensive barrages. Two weeks ago, Bruce Yari (Waterloo, Ont.) was named UBC’s Muscle MLK Athlete of the Week for his similar batting prowess, as he went 7-for-11 with 10 RBI to help the Thunderbirds outscore the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls 40-12 in a four-game conference sweep.
The very next weekend against the Concordia Cavaliers, however, the team had trouble stringing together at-bats and plated 11 runs in four games, splitting the series.
The team’s pitching has been more consistent, spearheaded by starters Conor Lillis-White (Toronto) and Jeremy Newton (Toronto), set to open up the weekend. Last weekend Newton pitched seven shutout innings, striking out eight batters for his seventh win of the season.
“Our bullpen is strong,” said McKaig. “They’ll have to be ready to face Menlo since they have one of the better lineups in the conference, but as long as we follow our game plan we should be fine in that department.”
On Tuesday, Lillis-White received the ‘Bus’ Phillips Memorial Trophy for Male Athlete of the Year at UBC’s 94th Big Block Awards, along with swimmer Coleman Allen. Although the award honours his proficiency from his perfect 2014 season (9-0) in which the ‘Birds won the NAIA West Grouping championship, his strong pitching has followed him into his final season as a Thunderbird. Currently, he is 8-2, with 75 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.
“That was a really nice award for Conor to win,” McKaig said. “He was really deserving of that, he’s worked hard and had a good season.”
As far as claiming this weekend’s series, it’s a team effort that starts at the plate.
“Every week we focus on helping guys make adjustments and fine tune things,” Coach McKaig said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s the players that dig into the box and face the pitcher. They have to decide who’s going to step up and carry the team. They have to turn this around. And to do so, we have to have confidence and patience.”
First pitch of the doubleheader is at 12 noon on Saturday at Thunderbird Park. The series will wrap up Sunday, with Game 3 starting at 11 a.m.