The UBC Thunderbirds baseball team closed out a strong series victory over the Oregon Tech Owls last weekend, winning three of four in the team’s return home from a grueling road-trip.
Winners of 13 straight games entering their bye-week, the Thunderbirds had faced relative struggles following the break — dropping five of seven and losing their first two series of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) West season.
The losing weekend series with Lewis Clark State and Corban closed out a month-long stretch for the ’Birds away from their home at Tourmaline West Stadium, and this past weekend’s matchup with Oregon Tech presented an opportunity for the team to regroup and take the field on home soil.
Entering Saturday’s matinee double-header, the ’Birds looked to get themselves back on track — turning the ball over to lefty ace Niall Windeler. The veteran had thrown an excellent first half to his season but had a difficult outing in his last start against Corban. He was tagged with his second loss of conference play, following a four-inning outing that saw him surrendering six runs on eight hits.
Back on the ’Birds home-mound, Windeler threw a sensational outing. In a return to form, he struck-out 10 batters, surrendering no hits and no walks in a complete game performance. Windeler became the first pitcher in Thunderbird history to record a solo, nine-inning no-hitter.
The lefty’s phenomenal performance earned him NAIA pitcher of the week honours. Overshadowed by Windeler etching his place in UBC record books was a solid game at the plate by the Thunderbirds, as they collected six runs on ten hits to secure the 6-0 victory.
Through the tumultuous weeks leading up to the matchup with the Owls, UBC had seen their hot bats relatively stifled. Since the midseason bye-week, the ’Birds had been outscored 28-38.
The team had reached double digits in hits in just a pair of games since the break, both in matchups against Corban. The middle of the lineup had struggled to cash-in on continued strong play at the top of the order, and UBC stranded 32 baserunners in the three-game series loss.
In support of Windeler, however, the ’Birds started collecting hits at opportune moments and using stolen bases to generate offense. Sophomore Jaxon Valcke picked up three runners-batter-in (RBI) on the game, including a two-out double in the fifth inning that knocked in a pair of runs following a steal of second base by rookie Noah Or.
Sophomore Nolan Weger was also key to kickstarting the offense. The utility infielder collected four hits and three runs, including a two-run homer in the eighth inning.
The strong play in the series opener carried over to the second half of the double-header. Veteran pitcher James Bradwell threw eight solid innings, striking out eight and giving up just three runs.
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, UBC’s Logan Dray picked up his third hit of the evening, taking Oregon Tech’s Zach Scherman deep for a two-run shot to put the Thunderbirds up 4-3, and collecting what would be the eventual game-winning run.
Dray’s outing included a double and a single on top of his fourth homerun of the season, as he picked up two runs and three RBIs.
Sunday’s double-header featured two starts from a pair of rookie pitchers for UBC. Garrett Hawkins picked up his third loss of the conference season, as the Thunderbirds dropped the opener 2-0. To his credit, the rookie threw a solid game, seven innings of two-run ball.
Hawkins was the victim of minimal run support, as the Thunderbirds were silenced by Owl pitcher Logan Nousen. Nousen needed just 94 pitches to close out his complete-game shutout, limiting UBC to just two hits and four baserunners.
In just his second start with the team, and his first since an early March matchup with Corban, Daniel Sereda threw four strong innings. His second appearance in April followed an outing against Corban that saw him throw 2.1 scoreless innings.
Though Sereda didn’t meet the minimum to secure his second win of the season, the lefty surrendered just four hits and a walk, striking out four in another scoreless outing. Sereda’s 1.47 Earned Run Average (ERA) is the second lowest on the team, trailing only James Bradwell’s ERA of 1.16.
After picking up a save in Bradwell’s Saturday start, stretch reliever Barry Caine closed out Sunday’s game with five innings of one-run ball to secure his third victory of the season.
In another explosive game for the offense, Dray picked up his second homerun in as many days for his team-leading fifth, and Ty Penner picked his fourth on a three-run shot in the seventh. The Thunderbirds would score efficiently, converting eight hits and four walks into six runs, securing the 3-1 series victory by a 6-1 score.
The team will return to action at home next weekend to close out their final series of the season. They play host to the College of Idaho Yotes, looking for a strong finish to their last games of the year at Tourmaline West Stadium.
Having built momentum in their series victory this past weekend, it will be important for the Thunderbirds to continue rolling to build some swagger. After a rocky couple of weeks, the team needs to get back on track quickly with the post-season rapidly approaching.
The Thunderbirds have secured the top NAIA West spot in the California Pacific Conference Championship, which kicks-off in Mesa, Arizona on May 5. The team needs to make sure that they’re firing on all cylinders, with hopes of making another strong run at the NAIA Baseball Championship.