Colorado State baseball took both games of the first doubleheader of the weekend Saturday against Wyoming in their conference opener.
The Rams won their first game by way of mercy rule after a stellar performance on the mound from Jared Van Vark in a complete game shutout and a career game at the plate by Mack Morford. Morford nearly tripled his season total of homeruns in two games with two in the first game of the and one in the second.
“We’ve really been working in practice on trying to look outside, but going in,” Morford said. We have been really working on curveballs and working on really seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and just making hard contact.”
The Rams jumped out to an early lead with back-to-back homeruns from Morford and Matthew Davis with two outs in the first inning and never looked back. The Rams held the 3-0 lead into the fourth with a pair of three up, three down innings followed by a double play and fly out in the top of the fourth.
“I think for the other team, it’s just hard to ever come back once you see (the early back-to-back homeruns) and just the whole game we were squaring the ball up,” head coach Troy Tolar said.
The team has been on a roll at the plate as of late, having scored 40 runs in just their last two victories, and another 23 in their games Saturday. Their success at the plate is driven by seeing pitches and staying patient.
“We’ve been really hot as of late so we just came out really focused the first game and played an all-around complete game,” Matt Davis said.
CSU has limited the strikeouts and put the ball in play, most importantly when conducting hit and runs. They were successful with two in the first game that both led to the Rams swiping an extra base on a routine single.
“(The hit and run) helped a lot today, we work on it a lot in practice and so when it works well, it definitely puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Tolar said.
The game followed a pattern of long innings when the Rams were at the plate and very short innings when the Cowboys stepped up. Van Vark executed three perfect innings throughout the game and worked fast.
“It’s much easier to stay hyped and make plays when your pitcher is throwing strikes and working fast. It makes a big difference,” Matt Smith said.
Rolling into the second game off the momentum of a win, the Rams started Clint Watt who threw three solid innings before being pulled in the top of the fourth. Watt was backed by another potent offensive performance, but struggled with control.
“We had a few rough innings but we would always answer back. I think we just bared down and pushed ourselves more,” Davis said.
Trouble came in the fourth when the Cowboys put the ball in play and took advantage of a sloppy inning by the Rams. The inning featured multiple instances of the bases loaded for the Cowboys and multiple pass balls leading to three runs being scored in the rally.
“We just have always talked about, no matter what happens, just work harder than the other team every inning, every pitch and every throw,” Tolar said. “And that mentality of knowing you’re going to win the game no matter what has helped the team a lot.”
The Rams stopped the bleeding after another rough inning in the fifth with a shutdown inning by Mark Singleton in the sixth. Singleton had a 1-2-3 inning that featured a spinning play and throw by shortstop Smith. In the bottom of the sixth, Davis was hit by a pitch and was forced to exit the game in favor of pinch runner Van Vark.
The game was closed out by Morford who showcased versatility throughout the doubleheader playing three positions. He had a near perfect inning, with a groundout and two strikeouts, with a single being the lone blemish.
“(Morford’s versatility) helps a to, it’s nice that he can DH the first game, catch the second game, and come in to close,” Tolar said. “He just finds a way to always barrel up the ball and that helps too.”
Early success in conference play sets a tone and allows momentum to be built for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Winning a Border War rivalry makes the early victories even better.
“I definitely think it was pretty important and I think it gives us an edge. Now we have the momentum going into tomorrow,” Morford said.
CSU will look to extend their winning streak Sunday in another home field doubleheader against the Cowboys.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann