1974 UNC Baseball Team - UNC Hall of Fame
1974 UNC Baseball Team
Front Row (L-R): Mark Aasen, Greg Pilkington, Greg Meyer, Dave Schiessler, Ron Holmes, Steve Gjertsen, Tom Runnells, Rick Kent.
Second Row: Asst. Coach Rich McMahan, Joe Strain, Mike Coy, Jeff Simpson, Bob DeMeo, Denny Leonida, Jeff Cheek, Paul Gradishar, Asst. Coach Tom Wheeler.
Back Row: Head Coach Tom Petroff, Mike McNeill, Larry Nelson, Rick Thoren, Greg Cook, Keith Bailey, John Gabbert.
The 1974 Northern Colorado baseball team was the 10th Bears' squad to advance to the College World Series, doing so with an exciting two-game sweep of favored Arizona at Jackson Field. Coach Tom Petroff's Bears compiled a record of 32-13 during the season and finished the year ranked No. 5 nationally.
Along the way they claimed the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) title. The Bears split the first 10 games of the season and had only a 14-10 record after 24 games before winning 17 of 18 games heading into the College World Series.
UNC hosted the NCAA District 7 Playoffs at Jackson Field, playing Gonzaga in the opening round. The Bears beat the Bulldogs 6-3 in the opener before Gonzaga shutout UNC 12-0 to force a final game. But Northern Colorado would not be denied and eliminated Gonzaga with a 6-2 victory.
That brought heavily favored and No. 1 ranked Arizona to Greeley for the right to play in the College World Series. The Wildcats entered the series with a 58-4 overall record but encountered the sizzling Bears and a crowd of over 2,000 at Jackson Field. In the opener, the Bears never trailed and freshman Keith Bailey pitched like a senior, pitching into the ninth inning against Arizona. Senior Greg Cook came into the game with one out and two on base before getting Ron Hassey to hit a ground ball that shortstop Joe Strain turned into a 6-3 game-winning double play, as UNC won 6-5.
A day later it was another freshman, Rick Thoren, throwing well as he pitched a complete game, allowing five hits and only two runs and pushing the Bears to a 6-2 victory in front of a crowd of 3,000. Arizona led 1-0 after the first inning but the Bears scored twice in the bottom of the frame on a two-run single by All-American catcher Bob DeMeo and UNC never looked back.
In Omaha, the bears lost to Oklahoma 10-1 in the opening game of the CWS before bouncing back to beat Harvard 4-2 behind a complete game, four-hitter from Thoren. But the season ended two days later when Southern Illinois bested the Bears 5-3.
DeMeo led the team in hitting with a .404 batting average; four other Bears hit over .300 for the season (Ron Holmes - .347, Jeff Cheek - .338; Strain - .338; Dennis Leonida - .309); the pitching staff was led by Bailey (10-2, 3.63 ERA) and Thoren (8-1, 4.12 ERA).
From that team, DeMeo, Petroff and Strain are all individual members of the UNC Athletic Hall of Fame (Petroff is also a member of the ABCA Hall of Fame).
Strain went on to become one of the seven Bears baseball players to make it to the Major League level of professional baseball, making his debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1979 and playing three seasons.