STOCKTON, Calif.—It took a few innings, but the Bulldog offense hit top gear Thursday afternoon, propelling the top-seeded Gonzaga baseball team past fourth-seed Saint Mary’s 11-3 and into the winners’ bracket of the West Coast Conference Championships at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif.
Saint Mary’s scored the game’s first runs, scoring twice in the top of the third off atypical wildness from GU starter Eli Morgan. After a leadoff double, the Gaels loaded the bases with a pair of walks. A wild pitch then scored Brett Rasso from third base, and Austin Chauvin hit an infield single for the second SMC tally.
Gonzaga pulled one back immediately, plating one in the bottom of the frame. Shortstop Gunnar Schubert led the frame off with a blooper into left for a single, and both Troy Johnston and Tyler Frost joined him on base to load them up with one out. Cleanup hitter Justin Jacobs then hit a grounder to second, but the Gaels were unable to turn a double play, allowing Schubert to score and cut the Zags’ deficit to one.
In the fifth, Gonzaga took the lead on three hits and some shaky Saint Mary’s defense. Johnston led the frame off with well-struck home run to right field, one that left the stadium grounds on one hop. Frost then singled up the middle for another knock, and Jacobs took second base when Rasso dropped a fly ball to left center, sending Frost to third. Frost then scored when Jeff Bohling hit a high pop into shallow right field that fell for a base hit, giving Gonzaga a 3-2 advantage.
The Bulldogs broke the game open in the sixth, scoring six runs and sending all nine men to the plate. Two of the first three Zags reached in the frame, putting runners on the corners with just one out for Johnston. The freshman then singled through the right side, allowing the lead runner to score and chasing SMC starter Ken Waldichuk from the game. Frost then loaded the bases by drawing a walk off reliever Johnny York, and then Jacobs lifted a ball out to left for a sacrifice fly. With two runners on base, Bohling then doubled to the left center gap to clear the bases, and Jake Roberts capped off the inning with a two-run shot down the left field line for a 9-2 lead.
One inning later, the Zags tacked on two more with a sacrifice fly from Sam Brown and an RBI double from Frost, putting the game at 11-2.
Saint Mary’s salvaged one run in the ninth, but that was all as the game ended 11-3 in favor of the top-seeded Zags. Morgan picked up the win, his 10th of the season while Waldichuk suffered the loss, his fourth.
· Gonzaga scored at least 10 runs for the seventh time this season and the third time in its last five games. Six different Zags tallied at least one RBI on the night, led by Bohling’s three. Johnston, Jacobs, and Roberts each tallied two RBIs on the day.
· Those 11 runs came on 14 hits as the Zags out-hit Saint Mary’s 14-10. Gonzaga’s reached double-digits in the hits column 26 times, including in each of the last five games and eight of the last 10.
· Morgan once again reached double-digits in strikeouts Thursday, fanning 10 Gaels batters. He’s struck out at least 10 batters in each of his last five outings and eight times total this season. The junior from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., has now fanned 138 batters this season, seven shy of the program’s single-season record. He also moved into third on Gonzaga’s career strikeouts list with 281 passing Brandon Bailey, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Olson.
· The Zags picked up their first win as the top seed at the WCC Championships. This is the second time in the tournament’s history Gonzaga was the top seed, also earning the top spot in 2013. That year, the Bulldogs lost both games they played in the competition.
· Roberts extended his on-base streak to 21 games with a single in the second inning, the longest such streak on the team this season. He later stole second base, his first steal of the season and fourth of his GU career.
Mac Talk: Thoughts from Gonzaga head coach Mark Machtolf:
· “We knew coming into this that the top four teams are all equal. It doesn’t matter what seed you are when you get here. With how hard Saint Mary’s battles, we knew we were going to be in for a fight. We’re really proud of our guys for settling in and figuring out what Waldichuk was doing the first time through. Troy set the tone, and our older guys came around.”
· “That was a really great effort by Eli. They [Saint Mary’s] did a good job of fighting off pitches, getting deep into pitch counts, and Eli really battled them long enough for us to get back in there offensively.”
The Zags (32-18) will now play a winner’s bracket game Friday, May 26, the second day of the WCC Championships. They’ll face the winner of BYU and Loyola Marymount, who are playing Thursday’s late game. Should Gonzaga win on May 26, the Zags will play for the tournament’s championship on Saturday, May 27, and a loss will send Gonzaga to an elimination game on at 7:00 p.m. May 26.