March 3, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ---- The Blazers continue to find ways to win games, as the UAB baseball team used a squeeze bunt by Keith DePew in the bottom of the 11th to earn a 2-1 victory against Utah on Saturday afternoon at Young Memorial Field.
UAB (7-3) started the day by completing Friday’s contest, which had been suspended due to inclement weather and saw the Utes win 11-0. However, the Blazers bounced back to capture their sixth one-run victory, which features three walk-off wins this season.
“After losing 11-0, that is a good win for our kids,” head coach Brian Shoop said. “After you get beat, everyone always asks about momentum and I don’t believe in that – I really don’t. It is always about the next pitcher.”
That next pitcher was right-handed starter Ben Bullard. The junior was firing bee bees all day, as he bested his career-high tally of strikeouts from a week ago (nine) with 12 punch outs over 7.0 innings of work. Of his 12 strikeouts, nine were swinging. Bullard scattered six singles only walked one batter. He sent the Utes down in order in four of his seven frames and allowed just two base runners to advance past second base.
Over his last two starts, Bullard has totaled 14.0 innings, giving up just one earned run on eight hits. He has showed pin-point control, walking just two batters during that span and has dominated hitters to the tune of 21 strikeouts.
“I’ve been a little more confident in myself recently,” Bullard said. “My first outing was a little shaky, but I worked on a few mechanical things. Pretty much it was my confidence and I have it riding high and I’m going to ride it out.”
Runs were at a premium in the contest, as both staffs held each team in check throughout the game. The teams combined for 20 hits (UAB 11, Utah 9), all of which were singles.
Utah (2-8) scored its one and only run of the contest in the top of the second off Bullard. Jo Jo Sharrar knocked a base hit and came around to score two batters later on a single to center off the bat of Josh Alexander.
Over the next four innings, Bullard allowed only one base runner – a third inning single by Shaun Cooper – to reach base as he retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced.
Utah Right-hander Brock Duke pitched into the seventh inning before being lifted for reliever Tyler Wagner (0-2). Duke’s final line finished with 6.0 innings pitched, six hits allowed, one run (unearned) and five strikeouts.
In the seventh, Ivan De Jesus started the inning with a base knock up the middle, which ended the day for Duke. Wagner quickly retired the next two batters before allowing an infield single by pinch-hitter Tanner Bryant. The Blazers loaded the bases after Ryan Prinzing drew a walk for senior Coy Arrowood.
The center fielder lined what appeared to be a base hit, but it was knocked down by Utah second baseman Cory Hunt. The infielder flipped the ball to double-play partner at second, but the ball was dropped, allowing De Jesus to score the tying run.
Neither squad was able to muster much of a threat against either bullpen until the 11th inning. UAB’s Ryan Nance (2-0), working in his fourth inning of relief, recorded two outs before giving up consecutive singles. With runners on first and second and two down, first baseman Jeff Schalk made an outstanding basket catch in foul territory in the visitor bullpen to retire the side.
“I went back on it and put my head down and ran and knew it would be at a spot near the bullpen and made the catch in the corner,” Schalk said.
It was just Schalk’s second collegiate start at first base, after seeing all of his action in the outfield prior to this weekend. The Wheaton, Ill. native also contributed at the dish, going 3-for-5 at the plate.
“That was an unbelievable catch by Schalk,” Shoop said. “We give gold gloves every game because we try to emphasize defense and that gets one for sure. “
The inning-ending catch sparked the Blazers as Tyler Mims and Schalk roped consecutive singles to start the last of the 11th. After Harry Clark walked to load the bases, up stepped DePew, who executed the suicide-squeeze bunt to bring home the game-winning run in walk-off fashion.
“When you pitch well and you defend well you give yourself a chance,” Shoop said. “I know we had two runs today and we are having trouble scoring, but I thought we swung the bats pretty well today and I was encouraged.”
The Blazers and Utes play the rubber match on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for Noon CT.