CEDAR CITY, Utah - Feb. 28 - Southern Utah University carried a 13-3 run lead over UVSC going into the top of the eighth inning and withstood a five-run inning by the Wolverines to capture its third consecutive win of the year in the 13-8 decision. Thunderbird baseball is now 3-0 on the young season while UVSC fell to 0-4-1 with the teams facing one another again Friday and Saturday.
Southern Utah starter Dustin Wittwer pitched five scoreless innings in seven innings of work to collect his second win of the year, retiring the first 12 batters in order. Hawaiian connection Keli'i Zablan and Bucky Aona created the brunt of Thunderbird runs with four RBI each.
"I was excited to see us put up 13 runs today," head coach David Eldredge said of the offensive production. "I was also pleased how we were able to come back and score five the inning they score their first three. That showed a lot of character."
The Thunderbirds put the first points on the board for the third time in three games this season as Aona collected his first RBI of the game, driving in Nick Freitas from second base in the first inning.
Southern Utah put up three more runs in the bottom of the second in a two-out rally. Ray Wright's double down the right field line scored Joe Wright from second with Jacob Romney advancing to third. Zablan's single up the middle in the next at bat drove both home for the second and third run of the inning.
The Thunderbird runs continued in the fifth inning as Nick Freitas led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on his first stolen base of the year. Two batters later, Chester Wilson collected the first of his three RBI by driving a double to left field.
Wittwer remained on the mound for the Thunderbirds in the sixth and showed his first signs of fatigue in giving up three unearned runs in the inning. The frame began with his only walk of the day, but back-to-back errors loaded the bases and a double by Jace Brinkerhoff scored two runs. Another single by Kevin Arendse scored the final run of the inning.
Southern Utah came back with a vengeance in the bottom of the inning to score five runs, maintaining the large lead. The inning began with Jacob Romney drawing a walk, one of seven by UVSC pitchers. He was followed by the second double of the day for Ray Wright to put men on second and third. Southern Utah capitalized on an intentional walk of Freitas in the next at bat as Aona drilled a single into left field, scoring two. Romney crossed the plate a pitch earlier as the ball squirted by UVSC catcher Kevin Arendse.
Wilson then came to the plate and ripped his second home run of the season over the right field fence, scoring Aona and marking his second and third RBI of the contest.
Three more runs were added in the bottom of the seventh with the Thunderbirds taking advantage of an opening walk with Zablan's double to right center scoring Matt Bezzant and pinch-hitter Matt Sanford. Zablan then crossed the plate later in the inning on Aona's single up the middle of the field.
SUU's bullpen provided a scare in the top of the eighth inning as junior-transfer David Thompson appeared in his first game of the season. Thompson collected an opening strikeout, but then struggled to get out of the inning as UVSC ripped off four runs while he was on the mound and another as Braden Yardley came on in relief with two outs in the inning. In all, the Wolverines scored five in the inning, halving the 13-3 lead for the Thunderbirds to 13-8.
That score would remain through the rest of the game with neither team making much noise in the final two frames. Wittwer advanced to 2-0 and remained perfect with a 0.00 ERA in the win as UVSC starter Bryan Smith dropped to 0-1 on the year in his second start of the season.
Both teams will take to the field again tomorrow in game two of the three game series. The first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 1:00 p.m. at Thunderbird Park.