High risk, high reward might be an apt way to describe the Northern Colorado Owl. Although players, coaches and fans may choose to describe the team as having high blood pressure after a stressful run victory.
The Owls (21-32 overall, 4-4 second half) stunned themselves and the Billings Mustangs (29-22 overall, 4-5 second half) with a 6-5 win to advance to the finals.
A combination of things helped the Owlz win.
First, starting pitcher Kida De La Cruz deserves a lot of credit.
De La Cruz had his best outing on the mound Friday afternoon. After allowing a double into the game, De La Cruz looked confident as he struck out eight and allowed no runs in five innings of work.
At one point, De La Cruz and the Owlz offense had seven hits. A pitching error ended that streak, but he responded by sitting out the next six.
Then offense became important once again. It should be noted that second baseman Brandon Crosby had a great game for the second time.
Northern Colorado took a 2-0 lead in the third inning when, after a designated hitter, Matt Turner brought home a two-run triple. Right fielder Avro Diaz singled off third baseman Tim Bouchard in the fifth for a 3-0 lead.
Things got sticky in the top of the eighth when Mustangs reliever Chance Benton hit two solo home runs. They made the difference 3-2.
In the bottom half, clutch hitting and some pitching errors from Billings helped the Owls earn an insurance win.
Crosby hit a two-RBI double while loading the bases, plating Diaz and pinch hitter Marshall Rich. It could have been a triple, but the ball rolled under the left field fence and out of play.
Then Jackson scored on a risky wild pitch. The Mustang defender attempted to cover the base, but he failed to make the tag. That gave the Owlz a 6-2 lead, something both teams will remember – but with mixed feelings.
The last inning was tough for closer Christian Griffin. He gave up back-to-back singles and a three-run homer with no stuff, pulling the Mustangs within one.
It also had a walk and a wild pitch. Griffin, however, composed himself and was able to finish the game with two hits and a groundout.
NoCo finished with 11 hits, one error and eight runners. Meanwhile, the Mustangs finished the game with seven hits, no errors and five hits, including the tying run.
The pitching staff had 12 hits, two walks and one wild pitch. Billings’ bullpen recorded 11 strikeouts, four walks, one wild pitch and two strikeouts.
It was the first time since June 18 and 19 that the Owls recorded back-to-back home wins.
They will try to make it three and four on Saturday. The final game in Greeley will be Sunday at 1:05 p.m., with Northern Colorado hosting a doubleheader starting at 1:05 p.m.