Jackson magic continued for the UNC Bears baseball team Friday afternoon against Metropolitan State University. Seven runs in the final two innings were capped off by a walk-off two-run home run from junior catcher Alex Kiel.
The win gave the Bears much needed momentum going into Saturday’s doubleheader against the Roadrunners
“I told those guys, if this is how we want to do this year, I’m fine. Ill drive the bus, I’ll fly the plane, I’ll skipper the boat, I got their back,” coach Carl Iwasaki said. “If we’re going to live this way, it’s going to be a challenge.”
The 8-6 victory for the Bears came at a perfect time. With the march to Mesa almost halfway over, the Bears needed a big time win to not only boost their confidence but also give the players a chance to sharpen their knives.
These non-conference games also give head coach Iwasaki a chance to play with some different lineups and pitchers to see exactly what he has to do to improve his 4-5 conference record.
In the third inning, UNC junior starter, Aaron Hamilton, gave up his first run after a wild pitch scored senior Jake Thurston and allowed junior Trent Maloney to reach second base.
Maloney would score two pitches later on a RBI single from Junior Cale O’Donnell.
UNC left four runners on base in the first three innings but were able to squeak home a run in the fourth after back-to-back doubles from junior Brett Minnick and freshman Matt Burkart.
The Bears could have tied the game but Burkart was thrown out at home plate after the sacrifice squeeze bunt from junior Dean Lawson landed directly in front of Metro starting pitcher Jake Roley.
The wheels started to come off for Hamilton in the fifth inning. Out of the three runs he gave up that inning, two were unearned. It ended up being Hamilton’s final inning of the game, and put the Bears behind 5-1 with only 12 outs to work with.
The Bats were silent in the sixth and seventh inning, but in the eighth, the Bears would get the rally started.
Sophomore Jack Pauley took the first pitch of the inning and sent it over everybody’s head for a solo home run. That home run sparked the energy for the Bears bats.
They rallied off another three runs in the inning to put UNC back in the game with a chance to win it in the ninth, the deficit was only one, 5-4.
“We always find a way in the late innings to get back in the game,” Pauley said. “I don’t know what it is, but it just gets contagious and once one person gets it going we all get going.
In the top of the ninth, the Roadrunners got what they thought was the insurance run that was going to keep the Bears from completing the comeback, pushing the lead to 6-4 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Metro senior closer Josh Moore couldn’t find the zone to start to the inning, hitting junior Evan Johnson on the arm to leadoff.
Cole Maltese also got a free base when he didn’t lift his bat off his shoulder, walking on just four pitches.
Both runners ended up in scoring position when Moore threw his second wild pitch of the inning.
Johnson cut the lead to one when he scored on a sacrifice fly from Pauley. After a Minnick strikeout and a walk for Burkart, it was down to Kiel. Moore started the at-bat by stealing a strike on the outside corner. Kiel didn’t like the call from home plate umpire Andrew Torfin but he wasn’t going to leave the game in Torfins hands.
When Moore tried to steal another strike, Kiel made him pay for it, sending it over the left-centerfield wall.
UNC’s bench was in disbelief as they made their way to home plate to celebrate. Kiel rounded the bases with his hands up and when made it to home plate the team drenched him with water and Gatorade.
“All day I was swinging through the outside pitch, so I was just taking deep breaths and just trying to hit a single honestly, but it just happened to go out,” said Alex Kiel. “I haven’t hit a home run in so long I forgot what the feeling is like.”
After a doubleheader at Metro Saturday, the Bears are back in action Tuesday at 3 p.m. when they host UCCS at Jackson Field.