Thunderbirds hope to be unfriendly hosts

Tyler Gillies (London, Ont.) worked the final three innings for an old-timey save as the UBC Thunderbirds edged the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls 5-4. The win guaranteed home-field advantage for the NAIA West playoffs.  

Tyler Gillies (London, Ont.) worked the final three innings for an old-timey save as the UBC Thunderbirds edged the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls 5-4. The win guaranteed home-field advantage for the NAIA West playoffs.  

By: Matt Betts

Canadian Baseball Network

A year after heading to Portland, Ore. for the NAIA West Grouping Championships the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds accomplished their goal of being able to host the event this year.

The Thunderbirds needed three of a possible four wins as they headed out on the road to take on Oregon Tech during the final weekend of the regular season to clinch the right to host. It wasn't easy but the job got done. UBC took Game 1, 11-6 and followed it up with a 13-1 victory in Game 2.

RHP Connor Noble (Vancouver, bC) threw eight solid innings allowing two earned runs and fannning six.

RF Bruce Yari (Waterloo, Ont.) led the way at the plate going 4-for-5 with four RBIs.

2B Anthony Olson (Edmonton, Alta.) had three hits and knocked in a run as CF Tyler Enns (East St. Paul, Man.) had a pair of hits and two RBIs. 3B Anthony Cusati (Burnaby, BC) and 1B Vinny Martin (Pender Island, BC) each had two hits and knocked in a run and SS Kyle McComb (Surrey, BC) had a pair of hits. 

RHP Jeremy Newton (Toronto, Ont.) was dominant in Game 2 pitching eight strong giving up one earned run on eight hits.

Yari and Martin each had three hits, with the latter driving in a pair. Soper, Cusati, Enns and McComb each had a pair of hits apiece.  

Game 3 was where things got interesting as Oregon Tech scratched out a 4-3 win. 

LHP Brad Smith (North Vancouver, BC) started and threw 6 1/3 innings allowing three earned runs on eight hits while striking out two. 

Enns had two hits knocking in two runs, while Soper had a pair of hits for the TBirds.

The loss forced UBC into a must-win situation in the final game of the regular season.

After Oregon Tech opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a pair of runs the Thunderbirds stormed back with three of their own in the top of the third and two more in the top of the fourth. The Owls would make it interesting in the bottom half of the fourth by adding on two runs to make it a 5-4 game.

Luckily for the T-Birds that was enough as former Coquitlam Red Curtis Taylor (Port Coquitlam, BC) held the lead thru six innings. He handed the ball off to Tyler Gillies (London, Ont.) to close things out. That is exactly what Gillies did as he tossed a scoreless final three innings allowing only two hits with three strikeouts for his sixth save.

Soper had two hits knocking in a run, while Martin drove in a pair and Olson had a pair of hits.

The Thunderbirds finished the regular season with a record of 37-18 (23-12 in conference) and own the right to play host to the grouping. They will kick it off Friday when they take on the College of Idaho at Thunderbird Park at 1 p.m. pacific time.

In 2015 the Thunderbirds won Game 1 of the grouping 5-3 over Menlo before facing Concordia in three consecutive games. UBC would win the first game 6-3 before dropping the second 3-0. The Thunderbirds would win the third game by a 5-2 score, securing a berth in the NAIA Baseball Championship opening round in Santa Clara, Calif. They would eventually bow out after three games.

Playing host to the tournament is important to the Thunderbirds and they hope to use home field to their advantage. They had a 17-5 record on home turf this season, while going just 14-12 on the road.

The College of Idaho are no strangers to the Thunderbirds as they have already done battle seven times this season. The T-Birds were swept on the road in a three game set by the Yotes March 19th-20th before taking 3-of-4 at home during the weekend of April 23rd and 24th. The College of Idaho finished up just behind the Thunderbirds with a 35-18 record (22-13 in conference), so it should be a stellar matchup.

Joining UBC and the College of Idaho at the tournament are Lewis-Clark State, Corban and Marymount. UBC went 3-5 against Lewis-Clark State, 6-4 against Corban and did not play Marymount this year.

Should UBC win their opening game they would take on the winner of Lewis-Clark State versus the winner of Corban versus Marymount. If they were to lose the opener they would take on the loser of Corban versus Marymount. The tournament is a double elimination knockout.

As one goal is accomplished another one begins. This time UBC will get to kick off their postseason play at home and will look to build off a strong 2015 postseason and 2016 regular season.

It is an exciting time for baseball at UBC.

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Matt Betts

Matt Betts was born in Brantford, Ontario in 1992. From a very young age, he loved all things baseball ... but even more, all things Canadian. His baseball career began with the Brantford Junior Red Sox, followed by three years (2008 thru 2010) with the Ontario Terriers program of the PBLO - twice winning the Most Proficient Pitcher award. The past four years he pitched at the University of West Alabama of the Gulf South Conference – twice earning Most Dedicated Player honours. Summer baseball experience includes pitching for the Hamilton Cardinals, and the Licking County Settlers (2013 Great Lakes League champs) and again this summer the Hamilton Cardinals. As an Integrated Marketing Major at UWA, he wrote extensively for the university newspaper, with a focus on baseball. His lifelong dedication and love for the game is indisputable, but his passion for sports writing and broadcasting/analysis has grown with each passing year. There is something very satisfying about “digging a little deeper” to reveal the “story within the story.” After four years of life in the United States, he is thrilled to be back home in Canada, ready to cover and promote Canadian sports and players.