Colorado State baseball swept rival Wyoming in their first conference series of the year. After winning both games of a double-header Saturday, the Rams completed the sweep Sunday with two more wins.
In the initial game of the doubleheader the Rams utilized a stellar game on the mound by Kevin Roberts with a two-run home run being the lone blemish of his outing en route to a 13-2 win. He allowed a mere three hits through the first three innings.
“Getting ahead in counts was my priority going out there,” Roberts said. “First pitch strikes made it a lot easier to work the counts.”
Roberts was given constant support by his defense, shortstop Matt Smith in particular. The two are roommates and the trust shows in the ground ball-heavy pitching style Roberts exhibits.
“It’s stellar having him out there and seeing him make some of the plays he makes,” said Roberts. “As a pitcher, it feels great to see a ground ball going to shortstop with two outs and knowing he’s going to make the throw.”
Smith has made a point to work on tough plays in practice, allowing a confidence to grow when faced with adversity. As a shortstop, Smith is expected to carry the load up the middle.
“My favorite thing to do during practice is working on making tough circus plays at shortstop. That’s the most fun for me,” Smith said.
The dominant pitching and error-free defense of the Rams was backed-up by the bat of Matthew Hart who enjoyed a perfect day at the plate, going 3-3 with a game-changing grand slam in the bottom of the second. Hart finished the game having driven in six of the Rams’ 13 runs in the rout. Hart was thrust into the starting lineup due to an injury to Matt Davis.
“I was really focusing on just letting the game come to me,” Hart said. “I knew I had big shoes to fill in the way (Davis) has been hitting.”
The Rams ended the game after just five innings with the 10-run mercy-rule coming into effect. The game was closed out by a perfect inning from Phelan Castellano.
In the final game of the weekend, the Rams sent Brad Johnson to the mound, surrounded by a lineup of lesser-known Rams who took full advantage of the opportunity.
“It was crucial for us as we work on building depth throughout the season and getting some other guys game reps,” head coach Troy Tolar said.
The Rams started the game in a similar manner as the rest of the weekend with a quick start aided by a leadoff home run by Trent Weldon and separate RBI hits from Josh Karlin and Luke Demolli. Johnson allowed only one hit through three innings.
“(My early success) started with the success of my teammates up on the mound,” Johnson said. “I figured if I threw strikes like they did, then I would see the same success they had.”
Dominance on the mound was a trend for the Rams throughout the weekend and even in the wet conditions, the strong pitching and defense continued. The Rams ran into trouble in the top of the fourth inning when Wyoming’s Drew Adriaens led off the inning with a home run to left.
“It’s tough to stay loose and focused during long innings on offense so I think I went out for the fourth, I lost a little focus and left some pitches in the zone,” Johnson said.
The offense came to the rescue with two runs in the bottom of the inning. The Rams took advantage of the slippery conditions by absorbing a couple of hit by pitches caused by Wyoming’s inability to hit the strike zone.
The game was called in the bottom of the fifth due to continuous showers and the Rams came out on top with a final score of 9-3.
The Rams will take lessons from their opening conference series, mainly consistency on defense, but began their conference schedule on a high note.
“We still need to work on tightening up our defense a little bit and just continuing to focus on doing the little things right every time,” Tolar said.
The team will head to Greeley for a weekend series with the University on Northern Colorado next weekend. The Bears present a more formidable foe as they reside near the top of the conference. The Rams will look to keep their confidence in check and not take the Bears lightly.
“We just continue to talk about staying humble and knowing that every time we show up to the field, we have to be the hardest working team,” Tolar said.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann