Pitching prowess key to Thunderbirds’ five-game long weekend sweep of Idaho Yotes

The UBC baseball team continued their perfect run at Thunderbird Park this past weekend, sweeping a grueling five-game, long weekend series against the College of Idaho Yotes with scores of 3-1, 4-3, 5-4, 6-0 and 4-3.

After a weekend set against the Oregon Tech Howlin’ Owls that saw UBC’s explosive offence take centre-stage last weekend, the starting pitching was a key standout in their success against Idaho.

At the top of the rotation, second-year lefty Niall Windeler threw eight tremendous innings of one-run balls to open the series. In the following three games, Brad Smith, Adam McKillican and James Bradwell all stretched out to seven innings, each of them picking up wins for their efforts. Bradwell had a particularly strong outing, striking out seven and surrendering no runs as he and his relievers closed out the team’s first shutout of the season.

Though left-handed pitcher Finnegan Duffield had a rocky start in Sunday’s game, Braeden Allemann would throw four-and-a-third scoreless frames to pick up his second win of the season. The Thunderbirds would come back from behind to complete the series sweep.

Following Sunday’s game, coach Chris Pritchett credited his strong starting pitching for the relief options he had at the end of a long, exhausting series.

“It’s really important, it gave us a day ... where we still had some flexibility … We have confidence in all those guys down there, but it definitely let us go to our guys that we want to,” he said. “That just gives us a chance to have [Allemann] in at the end of game five, whereas we would have burnt him [out] earlier if we hadn’t had the length early on.”

Following their fifty-hit weekend series against the Owls, the T-Birds’ offence was relatively quiet to start the long weekend. They picked up just six hits in each of Friday’s games. Senior slugger Mitch Robinson picked up a hit and a run in each game, and two walks and a runner-batted-in (RBI) in the second game. Through the weekend, he led the team in each of these categories.

Saturday’s games marked a return-to-form for the T-Birds offence, as they picked up 11 runs on 25 hits through the two match-ups that day. The early game saw Anthony Cusati and John Whaley each pick up a double and a single, and rookie Nolan Weger — who got the start as designated hitter — was 4-for-4 with four singles. Weger would continue his strong showing in the late Saturday game, one of three UBC batters with a trio of hits, along with Robinson and fellow rookie Jaxon Valcke who had two doubles. Cusati would punctuate the big day for the ’Birds with his third home run of the season.

Sunday’s game would mark the first and only time this season that the team would be forced to play for a fifth game in a series — an additional game over the typical four and a result of the long weekend. Despite the fatigue and the pride of the Yotes who were looking to avoid the sweep, the T-Birds would ride Robinson’s fifth-inning long-ball — his third of the season — to cap off a one-run, come-from-behind victory and close out the series.

Coach Pritchett noted the effects of the extra game following their Sunday morning matchup.

“It was a grind all the way, in both teams you could see the physical fatigue, [and] mental [fatigue]. You could just see everyone was moving [at] a slower speed – but hey, we were one run better than they were.”

The extra game provided an interesting development from a roster standpoint and a chance for other rookies to step up.

Weger, who was key in Saturday’s victories, made just his third, fourth and fifth appearances with the team this weekend, filling in for regulars in the designated hitter, short-stop and second base position. He would finish the weekend 6-for-11 at the plate, picking up two runs and two RBIs. Though he may not yet be a regular starter long-term like fellow first-year Valcke, Weger played well when he was called upon, contributing to the offence all series, and showed discipline at the plate with only one strikeout.

The Thunderbirds continued to impress in front of their home crowd, stretching their win-streak to nine games. Though this weekend went without the dramatic flair of the Oregon Tech series, which went to extra innings twice, the team continues to look as good as ever.

Sitting second in the conference, the T-Birds have a lot to prove as they continue their home-stand against the conference’s finest next weekend: Lewis-Clark State. The last time the two teams met, at the beginning of March, UBC was swept handily. That said, UBC has looked like a completely different team at home over the past two weeks, with their pitching and lineup continuing to come into form as the season carries on.

First pitch to open that series is at 6 p.m. Friday at Thunderbird Park.