Heading into a weekend series against Western Michigan, the University of Akron needed to win the series to keep any faint hopes of an appearance in the Mid-American Conference Tournament alive.
The Zips (11-31, 6-13) played like it Friday with a mix of desperation and poise. Spotting the Broncos (14-30, 7-11) a 6-1 lead, the Zips rallied for a 7-6 comeback victory.
Given the way the Broncos scored — two runs in three of the first five innings — a long afternoon appeared to be on the Zips’ agenda.
It certainly didn’t help that starting pitcher JT Brubaker contributed to the problems as his control left much to be desired.
Things were only exacerbated when Joe Cochran came in to relieve after four innings. Combined, they accounted for the Broncos’ success.
“JT has struggled,” UA coach Rick Rembielak said. “He’s a freshman and his last two outings really haven’t been good. He hasn’t gone deep, he’s losing control.”
Three hit batters and three wild pitches told the tale as the Zips fell behind 6-1 by the top of the fifth inning. Few teams can endure that many mistakes to come home with a victory. To the Zips’ credit, they did.
Catcher Brady Stewart had the game-winning hit as he went 3-for-4 with two RBI, and center fielder Devan Ahart was 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored to lead the Zips’ comeback.
“We need to have [Devan] come through; he’s got to be that spark,” Rembielak said. “I still think he could have a lot more good at-bats.”
Ahart came through in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Zips some semblance of life. His bases-loaded double down the right-field line scored left fielder Tyler Begun and second baseman James Sheltrown to begin a four-run inning. Moments later, shortstop Mark Rembielak scored on a grounder by third baseman Matt La Rocca to cut the deficit to 6-4. Right fielder Jared Turocy then delivered a single past the Broncos shortstop to score Ahart, a run that Rembielak called the turning point because it brought the Zips within 6-5. Turocy also scored the winning run.
“That’s something we haven’t seen a whole lot of,” Rembielak said. “For us to end up doing something like that is a huge step for this ballclub. It’s huge for a lot of young guys on the team who haven’t been playing.”
But as much as the offensive effort deserves praise, the bullpen, especially reliever Zach Beaver, deserves just as much.
After relieving Cochran, he pitched three shutout innings to allow his teammates to get back into the game with Samuel Trecaso closing.
“In the last couple of outings, our bullpen has done a great job,” Rembielak said. “Zach Beaver came in and shut them down in relief. It’s really because of Zach [that we won]. He really sparked the offense even though he’s a pitcher on the mound.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ. and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.