Toreros Offense Rains on USF Pitching in WCC Opener

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When playing a three game series in baseball, the home team really needs to win the opener. It ensures at least one win in the series while also putting the pressure of a response on the opposing team. Winning the first game of a series gives a team a mental edge that cannot be undervalued. In an attempt to secure that edge, USF threw their best at the 24th ranked Toreros by starting junior right-hander Kyle Zimmer (2-2, 2.14 ERA) on the mound. Unfortunately, the Dons’ All-American ace wasn’t able to contain San Diego’s offense and fell 6-1 to the visiting Toreros at Benedetti Diamond on Saturday, March 31. The Dons went 1-2 in the series against the preseason favorites, the University of San Diego.

The Dons posted the first run of the game in the third inning, when senior first baseman Nik Balog muscled a ball into shallow center field, allowing Justin Maffei to scamper across home plate. While the Dons 1-0 advantage disappeared the next inning on a Dillon Haupt solo homerun, Zimmer held the Toreros for the following six innings.

The seventh inning, however, netted the Toreros two runs on a bases loaded sacrifice fly, a questionable call at second base, and a wild pitch by USF. The bases loaded sacrifice fly by Louie Lechich gave the Toreros a 2-1 advantage with two outs. The botched call came on Lechich’s sac fly, when Julian Duran got caught trying to advance an extra base and was seemingly thrown out by the Dons’ catcher, Mason Morioka. The second base umpire saw things differently and allowed Duran to stay in scoring position.

In the eighth inning, the Toreros took a 3-1 lead on a wild pitch by Zimmer allowing Connor Joe to score from third. Dons coach Nino Giarrantano quickly replaced Zimmer with reliever Jordan Remer, who would finish out the game. The USD lead would prove too much for the Dons to surmount as junior right hander Calvin Drummond delivered his first complete game performance of the year, allowing USF only one run on seven hits. San Diego would add another run in the eighth and two more in the ninth to seal the 6-1 victory.

Sunday marked the start of April but Mother Nature had an early April Fool’s prank to bestow upon the Dons on Saturdays second of the three game series. The contest was supposed to be held at AT&T Park as a part of the seventh annual Dante Benedetti Classic, but rain forced the game back to the Hilltop for a delayed start. USF, reeling from their 6-1 defeat the day before, sent sophomore Alex Balog (1-2) and his impressive 1.26 ERA to the mound against the Toreros. The Toreros, however, were not impressed and knocked Balog around for six runs in two innings, forcing the Dons to play catch-up baseball. Down big early, the Dons had to plate some runs before things got out of hand as the Toreros, hitting .332 as a team, took a 7-0 lead in the top half of the fourth inning.

Nik Balog lead off the fourth with a walk, and senior Adam Clear got to first the hard way-by wearing a pitch from San Diego’s tall, lanky right hander Paul Seward (4-1). With two men on base and no outs, DH Tom Barry drove Balog home with a double to right and started a Dons rally. Two batters later, Mason Morioka skied a sacrifice fly that sent Barry across the dish. Wanting to join the hit parade, pinch-hitter Brendan Hendricks drove another RBI home for the Dons, who now trailed 7-3 after the fourth.

Balog was able to quiet the Toreros for two more innings before junior Haden Hinkle was summoned from the bullpen to make his 13th appearance of the season. Hinkle pitched the final three frames for USF, but allowed a three run shot to Bryan Haar in the seventh that stretched USD’s lead back to seven by a tally of 10-3. Running out of innings, senior Matt Chavez proved the Dons could also hit the long ball, by smashing a fastball off the netting at Benedetti Diamond and earning a two run homer to make it a 10-5 ball game. After a quite eighth inning, USD scored one more run in the ninth. The Dons remained silent as Drew Jacobs and Michael Wagner combined to secure the win for Seward over the final 2.1 frames of baseball. The victory provided USD with their eighth straight win while leaving the defending champion Dons 0-2 to start WCC play.

After surrendering 17 runs in two days, redshirt sophomore Abe Bobb (4-3) went to the mound Sunday, April 1, to prove that USF’s highly touted pitching staff was a force to be reckoned with. Bobb tossed an incredible 7.1 innings of shutout baseball against a team that leads the WCC in nearly every offensive statistic, bringing his win total to 4. Giving up only six hits during his time on the bump, Bobb was pitching with no room for error, as the USF offense rustled up just one run in his support. The run came in the first inning after Justin Maffei reached on a fielding error. Maffei, who leads the WCC in steals with 13 on 16 attempts, was bunted over to second by junior Jason Mahood. Nik Balog promptly laced a double to left field and sent Maffei racing home. After vanquishing the weekend’s villain Bryan Haar, Bobb was relieved in the eighth by junior Elliott Waterman. The big southpaw dropped his ERA to a stunning 1.33 and handed the Toreros their second shut out of the season.

Despite the rain, the USF Diamond Dons were able to start their WCC campaign at home in front of a friendly crowd. Although the weekend left them sub .500 (14-16, 1-2 WCC), the Dons were able to shutout a nationally ranked opponent and hand the Toreros just their seventh loss in thirty contests. While the remainder of the WCC is still filled with talent, USF has seen the best the league has to offer this spring and, with Sundays win, has the knowledge that they can best any team on any day. Coach Giarratano and his Diamond Dons will continue WCC play in Portland on Thursday where they will on a three game series at 5 p.m.

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