By Kyle Cape-Lindelin, Staff Writer -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Riding a five-game winning streak to start the season, the Pilots were finally brought down to earth by Cal State-Bakersfield, losing two of their three games in the series. Not to let losses affect their unbeaten home record, the Pilots redeemed themselves as they returned home to beat Concordia 5-0 March 6. The Pilots now prepare to run the gauntlet as they host Air Force Academy for four games in three days.
"We're feeling good right now. I'm excited to play so early," freshman infielder Cody Lenahan said. "Getting the feeling of losing and bouncing back has really rejuvenated us and we're clicking. I can't wait to play four games in three days."
The Pilots got a chance to be the team opposite an offensive explosion March 2 when the CSU-Bakersfield Roadrunners won 14-2 in the first game of the series. The Pilots bounced back in their second game March 3 as freshman pitcher Travis Radke turned in a terrific performance to build on his five scoreless innings against Creighton on Feb. 26, throwing seven scoreless innings, including 11 strikeouts as the Pilots shut out CSU-Bakersfield, winning 3-0.
"It's a blessing for me to have the opportunity to play as a freshman and show what I can do while having an impact on the team," Radke said. "All us freshmen are using this opportunity to help out in anyway we can to help this team focus on winning."
The tables turned on the Pilots in the series finale on March 4, however, as CSU-Bakersfield's sophomore pitcher Taylor Aikenhead threw a complete game with five strikeouts and only allowing the Pilots to score once in the 5-1 loss.
"I was disappointed coming back from California after Sunday's loss, but this team has a good way of coming back stronger, and I think we show that, especially at home," Head Coach Chris Sperry said.
Junior pitcher Matt McCallister led the Pilots to a re-energizing win, throwing six scoreless innings, earning the Pilots their third shutout of the season. The Pilots' offense quickly gave McCallister the comfort zone he needed, with Lanahan getting the run started with a stand-up double, and scoring off a single by sophomore infielder/outfielder Turner Gill. Gill was also brought home on another line-drive by junior infielder Brian Fratalli to give the Pilots a 2-0 lead in the second inning that secured them the game.
"Our young guys are playing great, they're really keeping us going until our veterans get on track where I expect them to be," Sperry said. "I still don't believe we've reached our potential despite the start we're off to."
McCallister's pitching never let up and the Pilots added three more runs in the seventh and eighth innings, thanks to senior infielder Kris Kauppila and freshman infielder Michael Lucarelli, who finished with two and three hits, respectively.
The CSU-Bakersfield game on March 2 was a completely different story, as UP's All-American starting pitcher, senior Kyle Kraus, was attacked early by CSU-Bakersfield. Kraus, playing with an infected thumb, gave up 11 hits and nine runs, four in the first inning alone, before he was relieved after the third inning.
UP's hole was too deep to climb out of, despite freshman Caleb Whalen continuing his fast start in the college game going 3-for-4 at the plate, his second 3-hit game of the season, while Fratalli drove in the team's two runs.
"I feel pretty comfortable out there and I'm really just having fun with all the guys, it's great we're getting to experience success," Whalen said.
UP's offense came back to life on March 3 when red-shirted sophomore Chet Thompson shot a line drive down the left field foul line in the second inning. Gill tagged home and senior Sam Westendorf followed in to score off an errant throw back to the home plate.
With a 2-0 cushion lead, Radke proceeded to dominate on the hill, only allowing four hits in his seven innings pitched and only giving up one walk. Red-shirted junior Beau Fraser added to UP's lead with a solo home run blast in the seventh inning to effectively end CSU-Bakersfield's chances and give Radke his second win of the season.
"I'm really excited by the amount of hype that the WCC is getting and we definitely have a chance to possibly make the tournament this year because of the conference's competition," Radke said. "Our goal is to make the tournament, make some noise and prove people wrong about us. We're just taking it one game at a time and focusing on getting wins."
UP kept the final game of the series on March 4 close until the third inning with the score tied 1-1 after sophomore infielder Zack McCoy was driven in by a single by Lucarelli up the middle of the field. The Pilots had an opportunity to take the lead, but it was quickly lost with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
CSU-Bakersfield took control of the game with pairs of runs scored in the sixth and seventh innings to hand UP its second loss of the season. Junior pitcher Chris Johnson picked up his first loss of the season after giving up three runs, seven hits and three walks despite his five strikeouts.
"The whole purpose of the non-conference schedule is to be a challenge and get us ready for WCC play," Sperry said. "These are tough teams we're facing and I'm proud of our team for battling and continuing to get better as we get ready for our conference schedule."
UP now prepares for a game-filled homestretch against Air Force starting Friday, March 9 at 2 p.m., a double-header on Saturday, March 10 beginning at 11 a.m. and the series finale on Sunday, March 11 at 1 p.m.