CEDAR CITY, Utah – Southern Utah and Oakland split a pair of very competitive ball games Friday as the Grizzlies used solid defensive play to claim the first game of the day by a score of 6-3 and the Thunderbirds rallied in a back-and-forth second game to pull out a 8-7 victory.
Left hander Justin Neubauer got the start on the mound for SUU and looked good as he quickly retired the first two batters he faced. He then surrendered a two out walk to the Grizzlies’ Tommy Jablonski. In the next at bat Oakland third baseman Mike Carson would hit a towering homerun over the left field wall to put his team up 2-0.
Southern Utah answered with two runs in the bottom of the second to knot the score at 2-2. The Oakland defense would stumble in the inning as Tariq Staton of SUU reached first with a bunt down the third base line and then reached second on a throwing error by the third baseman. A passed ball during the next at bat allowed Staton to move to third and he would then score on an RBI single off the bat of Taggart Lunceford. Second baseman Dave Ricker then drew a walk to put runners on first and second. The next batter for SUU was left fielder Tyson Weber. He would drive a pitch at the Oakland second baseman who was unable to field the ball cleanly allowing Lunceford to score the second run for the Thunderbirds of the inning.
The Grizzlies retook the lead in the top of the fourth as they took advantage of Southern Utah errors to put two more runs on the board. Jake Morton and Eric Ogg both recorded RBI sacrifice flies in the frame to give Oakland a 4-2 lead.
An RBI sacrifice fly from Ricker in the bottom half of the inning made it a one run ball game at 4-3, but that is as close as it would get. Oakland went on to add an insurance run in the fifth followed by another in the seventh while holding Southern Utah scoreless over the final five innings for the 6-3 victory.
Russell Luxton pitched five solid innings for the away team to earn his third win of the year while Neubauer took the loss for SUU and is now 2-3 on the season.
The two teams didn’t waste any time in the back end of the day’s doubleheader as both sides put up a run in the first inning. Center fielder Tim Ryan led off the game for the Grizzlies with a double to left center and then scored on an RBI single from D.J. Jarrad. Taylor Shaw picked up a two out RBI single in the bottom of the inning for SUU to tie the game 1-1.
The Grizzlies then reclaimed the lead in the top of fourth as left fielder John Estes drove a two run single to right, scoring OU base runners Carson and Ryan Waldhart.
In the bottom half of the inning third baseman Justin Neuhart reached first after being hit by a pitch and then advanced to second on a single from Ricker. In the next at bat Weber drove a ball to deep left for an RBI double. With runners on second and third the Grizzlies would intentionally walk Bo Cuthbertson to load the bases. The dangerous Thunderbird lineup came through however as Kauweloa and Shaw delivered back-to-back two run RBI doubles to put SUU out in front 6-3.
“That was a clutch hit”, said SUU Coach Dave Eldgredge of Kauweola’s two run double. “It can be tough hitting behind Bo because he gets a lot of intentional walks, Kauweloa really came through for us there.”
Oakland battled back with an RBI single from Wick in the fifth followed by a two run double off the bat of Jarrad in the sixth that leveled the score at six runs apiece. The Grizzlies would then add a run on a sacrifice fly hit by Jablonski to take the lead 7-6.
Marcus Romero then reached first for SUU in the bottom of the sixth after being hit by a pitch. Romero was replaced by pinch runner Stephen Rockhill who advanced to second on a left field single hit by Cuthbertson. A well-executed bunt from Kauweloa would then give Southern Utah runners on second and third with just one out. The Grizzlies chose to pitch around Shaw, which loaded the bases for pinch hitter Austin Hunt. Hunt delivered a double to deep right center that dropped just past the outstretched glove of the center fielder scoring Rockhill from third to tie the game at seven. In the next at bat Neuhart ripped a ball to the third base side and then beat the throw at first allowing Shaw to score the go ahead run for SUU.
“Hunt’s double was huge for us,” stated Eldredge after the game. “It is tough to come off the bench and get a big hit. His aggressive nature at the plate makes him a great pinch hitter.”
Chase Rezac would retire the Grizzlies in order in the top of the seventh to preserve the 8-7 Thunderbird victory. The hard throwing sophomore picked up his fourth win of the season in relief and is now 4-5 on the year. Jake Arendsen falls to 2-1 after taking the loss for the Grizzlies.
With the split Southern Utah is now 10-13 in conference play and 22-27 overall. Oakland falls to 7-16 in the Summit League and 15-29 on the season.
The two teams will wrap the series on Saturday with a final game at 1 p.m. Saturday’s game is Senior Day for the Southern Utah baseball team and will also feature activities and prizes for members of the ThunderKids as well as all other young Thunderbird fans.