Feb. 25, 2012
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ---- A flair for the dramatic is definitely what fans at Young Memorial Field have seen so far through two homes games from the UAB baseball team this season. The Blazers won in walk-off fashion for the second straight night, thanks to a RBI triple in the bottom of the 12th from Patrick Palmeiro to clip the Ball State Cardinals, 1-0, on Saturday.
“We got some fantastic pitching from Ben (Bullard) and Ryan (Nance) and Pat got a hold of one for us. It’s fun to see the kids run on the field and enjoy the moment two days in a row,” head coach Brian Shoop said.
The game was a classic pitcher’s duel between both staffs through the first 11-and-a-half innings as each team matched zero for zero on the scoreboard. The Blazers finally cracked the string of goose eggs with some magic in the last of the 12th.
Tyler Mims started the inning with what appeared to be a routine pop up to second, but the ball was misplayed allowing UAB (4-2) to get the every important leadoff runner on. Mims had also started the winning rally on Friday night, proving to be a catalyst for some late game heroics.
Shoop went to his bench and called on Todd Wilkinson to run for Mims with Michael Busby due up. Busby hit a high chopper to third, allowing Ball State (1-3) to only retire the lead runner.
Next stepped Palmeiro, who had been hitless heading into what proved to be his final at bat of the afternoon.
The third baseman greeted reliever Miles Moeller (0-1) by tattooing a triple off the wall in left-centerfield giving Busby time to race around the bases with the game-winning run.
“I just tried to slow myself down and get a good pitch to hit. I was 0-4 and you try to forget about that going into your next at bat,” Palmeiro said.
The game-winning walk-off hit for Palmeiro was the first of his career at any level of baseball and helped the Blazers earn consecutive thrilling victories against the Cardinals.
Again, the Blazers received some stellar pitching from both their starter and bullpen. Ben Bullard was nearly untouchable in his second start of the season as he only allowed one Cardinal to reach past first base in his 7.0 innings on the mound.
The righty set a career-high with nine strikeouts, while giving up just two singles and one walk. At one point, Bullard struck out six of seven batters from the first through the third frames.
Nearly as impressive was Ryan Nance (1-0) out of the Blazer pen. Nance earned his first win of the season by blanking BSU over the final five innings and adding four punch outs, both tying career-highs for the righty.
The Cardinals received equally strong performances on the bump from starter Nestor Bautista and reliever Chris Maragnon. The duo combined to throw 11 shutout innings, giving up three hits with eight strikeouts.
The Blazers first and only real substantial offense threat came in the sixth. With runners on second and third and one out, Tanner Bryant hit a ground ball to shortstop. BSU’s T.J. Weir fielded the grounder, tagged a UAB base runner trying to advance to third, spun and fired to first for an inning-ending double play.
The top of the 12th looked pretty dicey for the Blazers as the first two Cardinal batters reached base to start the stanza. BSU attempted to move both runners into scoring position, but the UAB defense stepped up when called upon. The Green and Gold ran the wheel play as Palmeiro charged from third and flashed some leather of his own, fielding a BSU bunt and firing to shortstop Bryant at the hot corner to erase the lead runner.
Nance would buckle down and retire the next two batters on a fly out and strikeout to set up the walk-off finish for the second straight game.
“Baseball is a funny game,” Shoop said. “You see it in the big leagues all the time…a team finds it hard to score and then you score eight or nine runs in a game. That is going to happen for this team and I hope it is tomorrow.”
The Blazers will send right-hander Michael Busby to the mound as Ball State counters with righty T.J. Weir for Sunday’s series finale. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT.