PORTLAND, Ore. – For the fifth time in seven years, the UBC Thunderbirds are the NAIA West Grouping baseball champions.
The Thunderbirds were clutch in all facets of the game in defeating the host Concordia Cavaliers 5-2 in the second-and-deciding matchup of the NAIA West final on Monday afternoon in Portland, Ore.
Throwing for the third time in four days, reliever Curtis Taylor (Port Coquitlam, BC) held Concordia scoreless for the final four innings to earn the win, his second of the tournament.
“I’m proud of this team. Our most talented? No, but they carried on our championship expectations and mentality that has been built up over the years. A real gutsy team effort today,” said UBC coach Terry McKaig.
The Cavaliers were down 5-2 in the top of the eighth inning but loaded the bases with no outs. Taylor struck out the next batter Hunter Weiss on four pitches and then got Cole Crosby to ground into a double play as UBC shortstop Kevin Biro (Deep Bay, BC) got the ball over to second basemanJustin Orton (Essex, Ont.), who threw over to Bruce Yari (Waterloo, Ont.) at first.
The Thunderbirds bench erupted as they turned aside the threat.
Taylor came out for the ninth and retired the side in order, commencing the championship celebration at the pitcher’s mound.
UBC jumped out to a 4-0 lead and chased Concordia starter Quinn Eldridgeout of the game.
In the bottom of the first, the Blue and Gold opened the scoring as Biro hit an RBI single through the right side to bring home left fielder Tyler Enns(Winnipeg, Man.), who had led off the inning by drawing a walk.
Rookie third baseman Anthony Cusati (Burnaby, BC) made it 2-0 in the second after scoring on an Orton sacrifice fly.
In the top of the fifth, Concordia threatened to score by placing runners on first and third with one out. UBC starting pitcher Tyler Gillies (London, Ont.) got the second out by fanning Trent Calmer. Senior Alex Graham (North Vancouver, BC) then came in and induced a fly out from Jordan Spencer to keep the home side off the scoreboard.
Then in the bottom of the inning, Thunderbirds designated hitter Jerod Bartnik (Surrey, BC) provided the winning hit with a two-run home run over the right field fence to make it 4-0. It was team-leading ninth round-tripper of the season.
The Cavaliers got right back into the game with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth, but it could have been much worse for UBC.
Concordia loaded the bases with no outs, and got its first run on a walk. Taylor then entered the game to spell off Graham and immediately struck out pinch hitter Corbin Henderson. The next batter, Weiss, hit a sacrifice fly to right to reduce the Thunderbirds’ lead to 4-2, but Taylor got a force out at second on a fielder’s choice to keep UBC ahead.
The team added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning as Enns tripled down the right field line to bring home Orton.
Yari, Biro, Cusati and Orton all had two hits for the Thunderbirds, who advance to the NAIA World Series Opening Round, May 12-15, at a location to be determined. The ppening round pairings will be announced via a video show on Friday afternoon.
The NAIA World Series will take place May 22-29 in Lewiston, Idaho.
In the first round …. Rookie Cusati was the hero for the Thunderbirds getting three hits, including the game winner in the eighth inning, as his team defeated the Menlo Oaks 5-3.
UBC scored twice in the eighth to secure the victory, which sent the second-seeded Thunderbirds to the semifinals of the double-knockout tournament.
“I’m really proud of the kids because what you want your team to show at the end of the year, in the biggest game of the year, is some fight and some confidence and I think we did all that today,” said McKaig.
With the score tied 3-3, centre fielder Bryan Arthur (Abbotsford, BC) got things going in the bottom of the eighth with a one-out walk. Then Cusati delivered his biggest hit of the season with a triple to centre field to bring home Arthur and make the score 4-3 for UBC.
Right fielder Griff Goyer (Burnaby, BC) got hit by a pitch on the next at-bat. Second baseman Orton then drove in the final Thunderbirds run on a fielder’s choice that allowed Cusati to cross home plate from third.
“A freshman year in our program is not easy. You overcome a lot of adversity so to see them deliver for us, it puts a smile on your face as a coach,” said McKaig of Cusati. “He was all fired up, you could tell, with the slide and he was really emotional.
“It doesn’t matter who steps up in the playoffs, freshman or senior. Whoever can step up and win us a game, it’s all about getting that win.”
UBC actually had a golden opportunity to go ahead earlier in the game, in the bottom of the sixth. Two singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with just one out but a pop out and a controversial called third strike ended the threat and kept the score at 3-3.
Menlo evened the game in the top of the sixth on an RBI single from Alex Tenorio.
VID: Arthur goes deep
In the second round … Arthur’s three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning gave the UBC a 6-3 victory over the host Concordia Cavaliers in the semifinal of the NAIA West grouping.
“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” said McKaig. “We’re playing defence, we’re pitching well, and this has been two of the best offensive games, complete nine-inning outings, that we’ve had this year.”
With the Thunderbirds holding a slim 3-2 advantage in the eighth inning, first baseman Yari led off with a walk and then stole second. A bunt from shortstop Biro moved Yari over to third. The next batter, catcher Cam Firth (London, Ont.) was issued an intentional walk to set the stage for Arthur.
The UBC centre fielder nailed a pitch from Concordia hurler Jason Snodgrassover the right field fence and out of Porter Park for his first home run of the season. It gave his team a 6-2 lead, which was closed out by reliever Taylor, who earned his 11th save of the year.
“It was pretty awesome feeling and the coolest home run I’ve hit in my life,” said Arthur.
For the second straight game, the Thunderbirds fell behind 2-0 and overcame the deficit to triumph.
The host Cavaliers got a pair of runs in the third off UBC starter Alex Webb(Surrey, BC) on an RBI single from Cole Crosby and an RBI double by Nate Esposito.
But once again, the T-Birds displayed poise and patience, producing a three-run reply in the top of the fifth.
Right fielder Goyer led off with a walk. Then pinch hitter Brody Hawkins(Delta, BC) knocked a double to left centre to put two runners in scoring position.
“Brody Hawkins was ready to go and probably had the biggest at-bat of the game because we were down 2-0 at the time,” remarked McKaig.
Left fielder Enns followed up with an RBI single to plate Goyer and get UBC on the scoreboard at 2-1. On the ensuing play, DH Brendan Rose (Calgary) leveled the score at 2-2 with an RBI ground out that allowed pinch runner Orton to touch home plate. Biro then capped off the rally with a single to centre to bring home Enns.
Webb got the victory for UBC to improve to 9-3. The third-year hurler gave up three runs in 7 1/3 innings, while striking out six Cavaliers.
“Yes, he gave up a couple of runs early, but to put up the rest of the zeros and throw really well shows there’s more than just his fastball, breaking ball and change-up developing,” said McKaig. “The mental and emotional part of his pitching is also coming along.”
Saturday’s triumph was also the 500th for the Thunderbirds as members of the NAIA, which they joined in 2000.
Vid: UBC loses 3-0
In the semi-final … The Thunderbirds and Concordia will play a second-and-deciding title game after the host Cavaliers claimed a 3-0 win on Sunday.
UBC could have recorded its second straight NAIA West title with a triumph while Concordia started the day with a victory over the College of Idaho to get into the final of the double-knockout tournament.
Concordia starting pitcher Austin Hadley was the decisive factor against UBC as he gave up just two hits in 8 2/3 innings to earn the victory. The senior from Vancouver, Wash., struck out 10 batters as well.
“I thought he was outstanding today, mixing all those pitches and keeping balls down,” said McKaig of Hadley. “There were few mistakes. Every pitch out of his hand, you have to think about hitting, but some are out of the zone and some are good strikes down in the zone.
“These are the days you tip your cap to the other pitcher. I thought Jeremy (Newton) matched him right up until the eighth inning and they finally got their breakthrough. They had some guys step up and get some big hits and we couldn’t do that today.”
In the top of the ninth inning, the Thunderbirds loaded the bases but couldn’t get a run across. Before that UBC managed to place only two runners into scoring position.
In the home half of the eighth, the heart of the Cavaliers’ line up struck for three runs, which ended up being all the offence in the game.
Concordia’s Trent Calmer singled through the right side before Jordan Spencer drew a walk. Esposito brought them both home with a triple to make it 2-0. Ian Erickson then laid down a sacrifice bunt to score Esposito.
In the ninth, left fielder Enns drew a four-pitch walk to lead off. Two batters later, Yari also walked to put runners on first and second.
It looked like UBC would get at least a run when Biro lined a full-count pitch towards third base, but it was caught backhanded by Concordia’s Esposito.
The hosts changed pitchers after pinch hitter Bartnik was announced. The senior then drove a single into left centre to load the bases but Concordia was able to induce a groundout on the ensuing play for the victory.
Yari and Rose were the other T-Birds with hits on Sunday, while starting pitcher Jeremy Newton (Toronto) threw a complete game, giving up three runs and striking out five batters.