Zags sweep Portland to close out home slate
The Gonzaga University baseball team scored four unearned runs in the fifth inning and two more in the eighth which proved to be the difference as it stopped the University of Portland’s rally in the ninth to win the final home game of the regular-season 7-6 and complete the West Coast Conference sweep Sunday afternoon.
Senior Royce Bolinger made his final home game one to remember, recording three hits, including a three-run home run, to lead the effort for the Bulldogs (32-20, 12-9 WCC). Fellow senior Andy Hunter (4-2) was also a major contributor in both sides, recording two hits and a RBI while going 8 1/3 innings and allowing the six runs on eight hits and a walk. Alex Stanford also added two hits in his final home appearance.
Pilot starter Chris Johnson (4-4) had a stellar performance on the mound earlier in the game, but a costly error by the defense allowed the Bulldogs to score the four unearned runs in the fifth and hand him the loss. He finished the day going 7 1/3 with two earned runs on 11 hits and a walk.
The Pilots (25-22, 12-12 WCC) took the lead for the first time in the series when Michael Lucarelli hit a one-out single to right field and Sam Westendorf belted a two-run shot toward right center to give the Pilots a 2-0 lead.
The Bulldogs got on the board in their half of the third. Maxx Garrett led off with a single through the left side and advanced to second on Alex Bonczyk’s sacrifice bunt. After Marco Gonzales struck out, Steven Halcomb drew a four-pitch walk and Bolinger’s single up the middle brought in the Bulldogs first run on the afternoon.
Portland got the two-run lead back in the next inning when Turner Gill hit a leadoff home run to right center field.
Johnson retired the first two batters to start the home half of the fifth, but a throwing error by second baseman Kris Kauppila to force out Marco Gonzales at first base turned out to be the difference in the game. The Bulldogs took advantage of the mistake as Halcomb singled down the left field line to setup Bolinger’s three-run blast to left center. Clayton Eslick and Stanford followed with back-to-back singles and Hunter drove in a run with a single to left field to give the Bulldogs a 5-3 lead.
The Bulldogs added to the lead in the seventh inning when Hunter hit a one-out single up the middle, pinch runner Brock Slavin advanced to third when Billy Moon hit a single to left field and fielding error allowed the junior to reach second. Garrett brought Slavin home on a groundout to third and Bonczyk hit a RBI single by laying down a bunt to third base to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead.
Hunter had trouble trying to close the game in the ninth. Gill led off with a single to right field but Caleb Whalen flew out to center field for the first out. Hunter’s day on the mound ended when he surrendered a base hit by Chet Thompson and walked Brian Frattali to load the bases. Kenny Smith took over for Hunter and although he got Cody Lenahan to hit a grounder, Gonzales committed a fielding error to allow the Pilots to score their fourth run. The Pilots cut Gonzaga’s lead to two when Lucarelli hit a RBI single to center field. David Bigelow was signaled from the bullpen and although he hit Cornish to bring in the Pilots sixth run, the redshirt freshman was able to force out pinch runner Colin Sowers at home and get Kauppila to fly out to Bonczyk in center to earn his fourth save.
The Bulldogs will make a day trip to nearby Pullman to play Washington State University in the final game of a three-game season series Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs and Cougars were scheduled to open the season series in Pullman March 20 but the contest was postponed due to inclement weather. The Bulldogs have won the last two meetings in Spokane.