T-Birds christen new Thunderbird Park with first series sweep of season

This past weekend, the UBC baseball team took the field at Thunderbird Park for the first time — unveiling their new stadium in style as they swept their four-game home opener series against the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls. Having lost five of their last six regular season games, the T-Birds’ bats finally came to life as they secured their first series sweep of the season.

Saturday: 7-5 win

After a series against Corban two weeks ago that saw them held to just three hits on two separate occasions, the Thunderbirds offence had a lot to prove on Saturday.

Their offence was quick to respond in the first inning, putting up two hits, including Jaxon Valcke’s one-run single, to open the scoring.

The offence would strike again in the third with catcher Anthony Cusati and outfielder Austen Butler hitting back-to-back doubles to put UBC up by two. Starting designated hitter Lucas Soper would drive Butler home to push the lead to 3-0 by the end of the inning.

UBC lefty ace Niall Windeler took the mound first for the ’Birds. He gave up just two hits and two walks through the first four innings. However, the Owls made great contact with his pitches, fouling them off and forcing Windeler to throw a number of long at-bats early.

Windeler’s dominance started to falter as he wore out. With his pitch count high into the fifth inning, he issued three walks and gave up two runs as the Owls cut the lead to just one run.

The T-Birds set up outfield.
The T-Birds set up outfield. Elizabeth Wang

UBC would tack on another run and would lead by two into the top of the eighth, as Patrick Van Den Brink took the ball from reliever Jack Caswell after two scoreless innings. Van Den Brink would give up a lead-off single, followed by a double and a triple, tying the game at 4-4. The Owls would score one more on a sacrifice fly to take their first lead of the game.

The ’Birds launched a rally of their own in the bottom of the eighth. Valcke was set to lead off the bottom of the inning and sent the first pitch deep. His second home run of the season tied the game at five.

The explosive end to the inning would see UBC score two more as they stormed back to reclaim a 7-5 lead.

Saturday: 7-6 win

Adam McKillican started the second game for UBC. He gave up just five hits and three earned runs through seven innings, striking out eight on the day.

The Thunderbirds offence would make a quiet start, picking up just four hits and one run through the first five innings, as they found themselves down a pair.

In the bottom of the sixth, Lucas Soper picked up a one-run double to cut the lead in half and John Whaley would score in the seventh to tie the game.

To start the eighth, Brad Smith entered in relief of McKillican and closed out the eighth and ninth in just six batters. The Thunderbirds, however, were unable to put the game away and play extended to extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, Smith walked a batter and hit a batter to put runners on first and third. The Owls would take a one run lead — another runner would score on a wild pitch. Oregon would extend their lead to three with a sacrifice fly and would end the top half of the inning up 6-3.

To open the bottom of the tenth, UBC grounded out and struck out, putting the Owls just one out away from a win. Soper, unphased by the pressure, hit a double to get a runner on base. Braeden Alleman would follow with a single. With two out and two aboard, Cusati crushed a three-run homer to pull even with the Owls. The tenth would again end in a tie.

UBC and Oregon traded scoreless innings in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth, extending the near-four-hour marathon affair.

In the bottom of the fourteenth, UBC short-stop Kyle McComb picked up his first hit of the night. Butler would advance McComb to second with a sacrifice bunt. With a chance to win the game, Olson, who was previously 0-6 on the night, picked up a hit of his own. McComb would score from second and the Thunderbirds would walk-off the thriller ahead 7-6.

Sunday: 5-4 win

For the third consecutive game, the ’Birds were able to put up double digit hits as their offence continued to roll against the Owls. The top of the order would continue to hit well as Butler, Soper, Whaley and Mitch Robinson combined for seven hits, three runners-batted-in (RBI) and two homers.

Robinson would hit his team-leading third home run of the season in the bottom of the third. The two-out, two-run shot opened the scoring for UBC. Jake Lanferman’s double would bring home another run in the fourth and the ’Birds extended their lead to 3-0.

UBC starter James Bradwell threw decently through seven, giving up just six hits and four earned runs. He would hit four batters on the day, however, and the extra baserunners would prove crucial as the Owls clawed back in the fifth. In the frame, Bradwell hit three batters, two of whom scored, as the Owls tied the game up at 3-3.

Jake Lanferman steps up to bat.
Jake Lanferman steps up to bat. Elizabeth Wang

In the bottom of the sixth, Whaley would recapture the lead for the ’Birds with a lead-off home run, but Oregon would answer quickly in the top of the seventh to knot the score once more.

The eighth and ninth frames were scoreless, as play extended to extra innings for the second consecutive game.

In the bottom of the eleventh, with a chance to win the game, the ’Birds executed a similar series to their walk-off from the afternoon prior. Olson lead off the inning with a walk and was advanced to second by McComb. Lanferman picked up his second RBI of the game on a single up the middle to drive home the 5-4 winning run.

Sunday: 13-2 win

After dishing out back-to-back walk-off thrillers earlier in the weekend, the Thunderbirds walked all over the Owls and closed out the final game in seven innings.

After his heroics late in Sunday’s first game, Lanferman earned a start in the leadoff spot for UBC and had another tremendous game, picking up two hits, two runs and two RBI. He would be one of a number of Thunderbirds with a multi-hit game, as Butler, Allemann, Valcke and Justin Orton each picked up a pair of hits, and Robinson hit three.

The Thunderbirds’ offence exploded in the second inning with an eight-run frame to open the scoring. After Cusati reached base on a fielding error, the ’Birds hit six singles and one double, driving Owls’ starter Zach Scherman off the mound in the process.

The ’Birds added three more runs in the third to open the lead to eleven.

Though the Owls answered with a two-run double in the fifth, it would prove too little and too late. UBC would score two more in the sixth, and the game would end 13-2 early on a double-play in the top of the seventh.

Summary

With a week off to re-tool after their American road-trip, the Thunderbirds looked like a brand-new team. Though all the elements were there in their past two series, it really seemed as though the ’Birds were missing the magic to close out games that should have been theirs.

This weekend, however, the team was firing on all cylinders. Their rotation has continued to be strong, but their bullpen also rose to the occasion to help keep the team in games late (a reminder that Smith threw seven innings in relief in Saturday afternoon’s game, and only gave up one hit).

Most importantly, however, their lineup is clicking ­— the ’Birds are finally getting hits when it matters. Valcke, Cusati and Allemann each had a 3-RBI game in this series, and Sunday’s game saw every batter who with at least two at-bats get a hit.

Looking to continue their success at home, UBC plays host to College of Idaho next weekend for a festive, Easter weekend five-game set. First pitch to open that series is at 3 p.m. on Friday.