Photo By: Jonah Dayton
For the first time since October 2019, the Badgers men’s baseball team took the field to play their first series of the season this past weekend when they took on the Western Mustangs in a four-game set that spanned two days.
Saturday’s doubleheader in London saw the Badgers put up some huge offensive numbers as they swept the Mustangs on the road, winning 10-3 in Game 1, and 11-9 in Game 2. Connor Ambrogio spun a gem for Brock in Game 1, allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out eight and walking two en route to a complete game win. Corbin Smith broke it open in the second with a three-run homer in what was his very first plate appearance as a Badger.
Game 2 was a bit of a slopper on both sides, as Brock’s starter, Brayden Wilson, walked five batters and gave up five runs (though only three of them earned) over 2.1 innings before lefty Nick Davies gave up two runs over two-thirds of an inning. Not to be outdone, however, the Mustangs made four errors in the first inning which allowed Brock to take an early 4-0 lead.
The Mustangs did come back to take a 5-4 lead after three innings, despite recording just one hit and four errors — making up one of the weirder line scores you’ll ever see — thanks to a whole lot of walks and a few wild pitches. The lead was short-lived, however, as third baseman Tyler Giancos hit a three-run homer in the fifth to give Brock the lead once again.
Hayden Stam came out of the ’pen and threw two much-needed perfect innings before giving up a pair in his third inning of work. Brock took advantage of the seven Mustang errors throughout the game to take an 11-9 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, where Cam Gillis promptly struck out the side to secure Brock’s second win of the day.
The series shifted to Welland on Sunday (Brock had to move to the nearby Welland Sports Complex, as their usual home, George Taylor Field, was in rough shape after recent storms), where it was the Mustangs’ turn to do the sweeping, beating Brock by a score of 2-1 in what was a terrific pitchers’ duel in Game 1, and then came back with a 16-3 shellacking in Game 2.
Veteran righty Brandon Underhill took the bump for Brock in Game 1 and was terrific, throwing six innings of one-run ball while striking out seven. Underhill worked out of several tough jams late in the game, stranding a leadoff triple in the fifth before getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out pickle in the sixth by striking out the final two batters he faced.
“I just tried to throw the batters off time and get the runners off time,” said Underhill. “I tried to mix up my looks, mix up my pitches, and just tried to get a ground ball and let my defense do the work. Sometimes it worked in my favour and I got a strikeout, but I was just trying to get the guys behind me to do some work for me. The changeup was good for me early on, then we really just attacked slider-fastball; the slider was definitely my best pitch all game. Overall I felt really good.”
It was only a high fly ball that leftfielder Connor Humphrey lost in the sun that allowed the eventual winning run to reach base in the top of the seventh, who would come around to score on a sac fly later in the frame, which spoiled Underhill’s superb outing.
“Brandon’s a competitor; he fills the zone, and even when his stuff is off he’s always competitive,” said head coach Marc LePage. “Today he was dealing, he got out of some tight spots and that’s what you need from one of your better pitchers. He showed the young guys about competing and he wouldn’t back out for the seventh — cause he’s a bulldog — and we had to stop him and send someone else out there. He’s a competitor, and hopefully that translates to the rest of the pitching staff and guys learn from that.”
The pitching in Game 2 was quite the opposite from its predecessor, as the Mustangs sent 14 men to the plate and scored 10 runs in the first inning, knocking out starter Adam Robertson after just 0.1 innings. It was a tough outing for Robertson, who was never really able to find the strike zone, as he walked five batters, hit another, and gave up a hit while being tagged for seven earned runs. Griffin Whitehorne came in for Robertson but didn’t fare much better, recording just four outs while giving up six runs (five earned) of his own. Justin Mombourquette gave up three more runs (two earned) in 2.1 innings before Matt Foster took over from him.
“Obviously our bullpen wasn’t as prepared as we thought it was to perform,” said LePage. “There were a lot of non-competitive pitches, and those are things we’re going to have to address and fix when we play Laurier next weekend. This is about the process of getting us ready for Regionals in October, and we’re slowly learning more and more about our staff and today was hopefully a hard lesson for these guys to learn.”
Despite the poor outing in Game 2, the Badgers finished up their first weekend of ball in nearly two years with a split. LePage says that just being back on the field is an opportunity that he tells his players never to take for granted.
“We never know what’s going to happen with COVID-19,” said LePage. “We have no idea when we could be shut down again. There was a lot of prep involved in getting these teams ready from both sides, and talking to [Western’s] coach as well, it was a beautiful weekend. There were a lot of positives from the weekend but there are also things that we need to learn and fix to get ready for next weekend.”
The Badgers will face the Laurier Golden Hawks for a four-game series this upcoming weekend; Brock will be home for a doubleheader on Saturday at the Welland Sports Complex, with Game 1 set for noon and Game 2 set for 3 p.m., before heading out to Waterloo to play a doubleheader on Sunday. Follow @brockbaseball on Twitter for more details and updates.