SPOKANE, Wash.—The Gonzaga baseball team set itself up for a potential West Coast Conference title after erupting for eight runs in the fifth and cruising to a 10-4 win against No. 18 BYU Friday night at Patterson Baseball Complex & Washington Trust Field.
Gonzaga’s bats exploded in the fifth inning, scoring eight runs on four hits and five walks. The Zags put their first eight batters on base, the first three of which all drew walks to load the bases. Jeff Bohling then ripped a double down the left field line for a pair of RBIs and to tie the game at 4-4. Two batters later, Branson Trube singled in a run for the lead, and then both Jake Vieth and Gunnar Schubert drew bases-loaded walks for RBIs. Sam Brown traded an out for a run with a sacrifice fly, and Tyler Frost drove in two more with a single to left. Three BYU pitchers took the mound in the frame, and by the time all was said and done, the Zags led 10-4 after trailing by two to begin the frame.
BYU scored the game’s first four runs, plating three in the second and one more in the third. After a sacrifice fly from Bronson Larsen opened the scoring accord, Nate Favero hit a two-run homer out to right for a 3-0 Cougar lead. The visitors got another tally in the fourth with an RBI single from Keaton Kringlen, going up four runs at 4-0.
In the bottom of the third, the Zags pulled one back after Brown led off with a double to center field. He moved up to third on a wild pitch from BYU starter Brady Corless and then came home when Troy Johnston singled through the left side.
One inning later, the Zags cut the deficit to two at 4-2 after Trube scored on an RBI double from Brown.
Gonzaga starter Justin Vernia picked up the win, settling down after allowing the third-inning run. He ended his outing by retiring seven of his final eight batters faced. Reliever Casey Legumina took over for Vernia to begin the sixth inning and shut the Cougars down for the rest of the game. The freshman earned a save – the first of his career – after allowing just three hits in his four innings of relief work.
· With the win, the Zags sit just one game away from their second consecutive WCC title. At 19-7 in conference play, they’re one game back of league-leading BYU (20-6) with one final game against the Cougars tomorrow. With a win, the Bulldogs would be co-champs with BYU and take the No. 1 seed in the WCC Championships next weekend. BYU would win the league title outright and No. 1 seed at the tournament with a victory in Saturday’s game.
· Two Zags reached base in all five plate appearances Friday night: Vieth and Johnston. Vieth went 1-for-1 after drawing four walks, equaling his career and season high set March 4 at California. Johnston, meanwhile, was not retired all night, going 4-for-4 with a walk, three singles, a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. He’s the first GU freshman with four hits in a game since Jace VanDeBrake also collected four knocks April 16, 2016 at San Francisco.
· After sending 12 men to the plate in the fifth (eight runs, one runner stranded), the Zags batted around in an inning for the second time this series. In Friday’s game, Gonzaga scored six runs and sent 11 men to the dish in the third inning en route to a 10-2 win.
· The first three Gonzaga batters – Brown, Johnston, and Frost – combined to go 9-for-13 (.692) Friday night with four runs scored, five RBIs, two walks, and three doubles.
· This is the first time in program history the Zags have won 20 games in WCC play (they joined the WCC in 1996). Their previous best was 18 wins, which they reached both in 2013 and 2016. They also reached the 30 overall win mark for the second season in a row. Gonzaga has now won at least 30 games in eight of the last 11 seasons, including three consecutive 30-win years from 2007-09 and 2011-13.
Gonzaga Assistant Coach Brandon Harmon
· “We talk about setting goals, and the first one is always to win the regular season title. It’s the hardest one to do, and it’s the culmination of the whole season. To have an opportunity to do that tomorrow is exciting for us and exciting for our kids to get out there and have a chance to do that.”
· “They are a good offensive team, and they punched us a little bit early. It’s going to get overlooked a little bit, but Vernia did a good job putting up zeroes in the fourth and the fifth. Obviously Casey [Legumina] came in and was outstanding to finish off the game.”
Gonzaga junior Tyler Frost
· “The approach has been to hit low line drives, put the ball in play, and see what we can do to put pressure on them. We have some wheels on the team, we’re just trying to see what we can do with that.”
Gonzaga (30-17, 19-7 WCC) and No. 18 BYU (33-17, 20-6 WCC) will wrap up the WCC season Saturday, May 20, with one final game at Patterson Baseball Complex & Washington Trust Field. First pitch will come at 7:32 p.m. as the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Prior to that game, the Bulldogs’ seven seniors – Vernia, Brown, Bohling, Jake Roberts, Justin Jacobs, Sam Hellinger, and Wyatt Mills – will be honored for their hard work and dedication to the Gonzaga baseball program.