This past Easter weekend, the USF Dons played host to rivals in the WCC, the Saint Mary’s Gaels, at Benedetti Diamond. The series ran from Thursday to Saturday, and resulted in the Diamond Dons taking two out of three from the visiting Gaels. With the series win, USF improved to a season record of 13-14 and 5-4 in the WCC.
The three game set did not start out well for the Dons, with them dropping the first game to the Gaels 6-0. Saint Mary’s starter Ben Griset was dominant, allowing just four hits and striking out 10 en route to a complete game shutout. Sophomore outfielder Bradley Zimmer went 2-for-3 of the day while sophomore third baseman Bob Cruikshank and redshirt senior outfielder Bob Mott contributed one hit each. Other than the lack of offensive spark, the Dons’ poor defense played the biggest role in the upsetting loss. USF committed a season-high five errors, leading to three unearned runs by the Gaels, and ultimately the loss.
On Friday afternoon, the Dons turned it around and showed extreme resilience on the field, earning the win in extra innings. Just a day after their disappointing loss, USF displayed stellar defense behind junior starting pitcher Alex Balog and senior reliever Haden Hinkle, robbing the Gaels of a handful of hits and keeping the game close. The Dons jumped ahead early, pushing two runs across in the first inning and padding their lead with a double from Cruikshank that drove in a run in the third. Though Saint Mary’s came back to score two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth, USF managed to limit the damage to send the game into extra innings. With the score tied at three in the top of the ninth, senior center fielder Justin Maffei made a spectacular diving catch that robbed the Gaels’ leadoff hitter of extra bases.
Zimmer led off the bottom of the tenth with a walk. Pinch-hitter freshman Harrison Bruce immediately followed with a sacrifice bunt to advance Zimmer to second. With two outs and a runner on second, Mott drew a walk, leading to a two out, two on situation for sophomore first baseman Brendan Hendriks. Hendriks drove the first pitch he saw up the middle to score Zimmer and give the Dons the walk-off victory, besting the Gaels 4-3 in 10 innings.
After the game, Hendriks credited the two Dons pitchers, Balog and Hinkle, for keeping them in the game and giving the team the chance to win. He also acknowledged the team’s offensive strength at the end of the game.
“I was just glad to have the opportunity. They put together good at-bats ahead of me, Bob Mott had a great walk there, gave me the chance, and I got lucky. The ball got through, and I’ll take it,” Hendriks said of his game winning hit.
Riding on the momentum of game two, USF took the victory in the last game of the series 2-1. Through four innings, the Dons’ bats stayed relatively quiet. In the bottom of the fifth with one out, senior left fielder Mitchell Rowan and Hendriks ignited the offense with back-to-back singles before junior shortstop Josh Miller connected with a long home run into left field, tying the game at four apiece. In the sixth inning, Zimmer proceeded to seal the win with a line-drive home run to right field, and the Dons eventually defeated the Gaels 5-4.
The Diamond Dons will head for a nine game road trip and return to play a three game series at Benedetti Diamond against Loyola Marymount on April 19.