GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- Home sweet home. That's likely what the University of North Dakota baseball team is thinking following a thrilling doubleheader sweep of first-place Texas-Pan American at Kraft Memorial Field with 8-7 and 6-5 wins Friday afternoon.
After playing its first 31 games away from home to start this season, UND finally opened its home schedule and treated the home faithful to some pulse-racing, one-run wins against a UTPA team that entered the day with just two Great West Conference losses. Four ninth-inning runs in the nightcap put the perfect ending on a day that saw some milestones and plenty of clutch hits for North Dakota.
Clutch hits were the story for North Dakota, in fact, eight two-out hits helped Andrew Thome earn his fourth win of the season. It was previewed as a pitcher's duel between the league's leader in wins, UTPA's Sam Street (8-2) and UND's ace Thome but didn't follow the script.
UTPA (23-20, 13-4 GWC) got a pair of unearned tallies to grab a 3-1 lead in the third inning until UND wrestled back the lead for good in the fourth. In that frame, North Dakota (15-17-1, 6-8) sent eight batters to the plate and scored three runs to claim a 4-3 advantage. It started with Taylor Petersen with his first of six hits on the afternoon. After two were down, Matt Wehrli laced a clutch double down the left field line and Jacob Threlkeld followed two batters later with a RBI knock to right.
UND added another run in the sixth on a Kris Kwak RBI single to stake Thome to a 6-4 lead. The sophomore right-hander got out of a seventh-inning jam allowing just one run but walked the first two batters of the eighth inning to call it an afternoon. After an error loaded the bases with no one out, reliever Patrick Riewer got a pair of groundouts book-ending a popup and North Dakota escaped with the lead heading to the bottom of the eighth.
In that half-inning, UND got two insurance runs that proved to be big. The only hit of the inning was a two-out, two-run double by Zack Trygstad for an 8-5 UND edge. Three of the first four batters reached for the Broncs in the ninth to make Riewer sweat, but again, he wiggled off the hook by striking out Dillon Engelhart and inducing a game-ending groundout to second to put the win in the books.
Thome grabbed the win, going 7.0 innings, scattering seven hits with two earned runs three strikeouts and four walks. Riewer recorded his second save of the year by finishing off the final two inning with a pair of runs, a strikeout and a walk.
Trygstad was 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBI and Peteresen was 2-for-4 with two runs scored. They would both continue their hot hitting in game two.
Jeff Campbell took to the hill for his first prolonged outing since a Feb. 25 shutout vs. St. Cloud State. He had appeared in two other games since then, but both were nearly a month apart (Mar. 9, Apr. 7) and neither time did he pitch out of the first inning.
Finally recovered from the injury that kept him in a hitting-only role for the past few months, Campbell gave UND seven gutsy innings in which he continually worked with runners on base, but kept the game close.
UTPA got the first batter aboard in seven of the eight innings that Campbell started, but managed just a single run through five innings. With UND leading 2-1, the Broncs got three straight hits and a suicide squeeze to score a pair of runs in the sixth. Leadoff singles in the seventh and eighth each came around to score for a 5-2 UTPA lead going to the bottom of the ninth.
Once there, Bronc reliever Preston Budziszewski got a harmless foul popup and a fly to right for two quick outs at the top of UND's lineup. Petersen dropped-in a single to center to keep things alive and Trygstad walked to set the stage for Campbell. Down to its final strike, UND's righty slugger deposited a full-count pitch over the left field wall to tie the score at 5-apiece.
Not done yet, Wehrli ripped a hot shot to left for a double then Tyler Follis capped the comeback with a solid single to center scoring a pinch-running Riewer to send Kraft Field into a frenzy.
Petersen was 4-for-4 in the nightcap while Trygstad and Campbell each added a pair of hits in game two. Reid Jungling earned the win in releif, pitching the final two inning, allowing just two hits with a strikeout for his second win of the season.
The teams complete the series Saturday with a doubleheader. The first game will be a seven-inning contest set to begin at 1:00 p.m. with a nine-inning game to follow.
Notes: Kris Kwak, with a walk in the first game, tied the career record for base on balls with his 106th in his four-year career (Carter Rogalla, 1994-98) ... Alex Twenge (4-1, 2.21 ERA) and Tyler Ruemmele (1-4, 5.73 ERA) are scheduled to throw for UND Saturday.