The Dons entered the weekend with a record of 7-5 in the West Coast Conference. A three-game sweep of the visiting Saint Mary’s Gaels would be nice, but the Dons had not swept the Gaels since 2007. Could they make history?
To open the series, Riley Ornido and Ken Waldichuk battled in a pitchers duel. Both left the game after the seventh inning, still scoreless. Ornido finished with a line of 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 7 K, 3 BB and 7 H on 111 pitches. Waldichuk finished with 7.0 IP, 9 K, 0 ER, 2 BB and 3 H.
In the top of the eighth, Ornido was replaced by Joey Steele, who struck out the side.
In the bottom of the inning, Michael Hobbs entered for the Gaels. He retired the first batter he faced before getting into trouble. Tyler Villaroman singled to left, the Dons’ first base runner since the fifth inning. On Hobbs’ next pitch, the Dons called a hit & run. Villaroman began running as Hobbs began his pitch, and Jack Winkler slapped a single to left, advancing Villaroman to third. One pitch later, Riley Helland hit a chopper to a diving Gaels second baseman Gio Diaz, who fielded the ball but could not make a play. Villaroman scored, Winkler advanced to second, and Helland reached first safely. On the very next pitch, Jonathan Allen singled to left, scoring Winkler. Hobbs managed to stop the bleeding after that, striking out Robert Emery then throwing out pinch runner Nick Yovetich as he tried to steal third.
In the top of the ninth, Steele allowed a 2-out single to Edward Haus, but ended the game by inducing a ground ball to shortstop to seal a 2-0 Dons win.
The Dons sent out Scott Parker to face Gaels ace Tyler Thornton.
The Dons jumped ahead right away. Thornton’s very first pitch hit Villaroman’s back, sending him to first. Villaroman stole second, then reached third on a passed ball. Winkler walked, giving the Dons runners on first and third with no outs. Helland then singled to center field, scoring Villaroman and moving Winkler to third. Allen was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Next at-bat, Emery singled to center to score two. Up three runs, Jacob Munoz put down a perfect bunt down the third base line, loading the bases again.
With three runs scored, three hits, two batters hit by pitches and a walk allowed on no outs, the Gaels pulled Thornton and brought in Kevin Milam, who escaped the jam with three straight strikeouts.
Relatively uneventful innings followed, with Parker leaving the game after giving up a single in the top of the sixth with one out, and Alex Pham coming in to pitch for the Dons.
The game took a controversial turn in the top of the eighth inning. With two outs and two runners on base, Gaels catcher Daniel Mendez was at the plate. With a 2-2 count, Pham threw a fastball appearing to catch the lower corner of the strike zone. Home plate umpire Steve Hilgendorf’s right arm seemed to flinch as if he was about to call strike three, but caught himself and changed his mind. His reaction did not go unnoticed. Fans expressed their frustration, and Pham’s next pitch was called a ball, loading the bases. Pham did manage, however, to escape the jam.
“I can only control the pitches I make. Once it leaves my hand, it’s up to him whether to call it a ball or a strike,” Pham said of Hilgendorf’s flinch. “I thought it was a strike, but I just have to move on the next pitch and try again.”
Pham struck out two batters and induced a ground ball out in the top of the ninth to seal the Dons’ second win of the series, 4-2.
For the Sunday finale to the series, the Dons recognized Autism Awareness Day. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by a young fan battling brain cancer.
USF sent out Grant Nechak to complete the sweep against the Gaels’ Carlos Lomeli.
The umpires had a near-immediate effect on the game. In the top of the first, Diaz attempted to score from second on a double to right by Joe Vranesh. Dons right fielder Jacob Westerman threw to Helland, who threw home to Emery. Helland’s throw pulled Emery up the third base line, into the path of Diaz, who dove into Emery’s legs. The collision stopped Diaz short of home, as Emery fell onto Diaz, tagging him out. St. Mary’s argued that Emery blocked Diaz’s path, which would have awarded the Gaels a run. The umpires deliberated, the call stood, and the Gaels were not happy.
In the top of the eighth inning, with the game tied at 5-5, the umpires affected the game once again. With Gaels pinch runner Jack McCarthy on second base, Jack Murphy singled to center. The throw home pulled Emery up the third base line, into the path of McCarthy. The collision was nearly identical to the first inning, but this time home plate umpire Shaun Lampe ruled that Emery blocked the basepath, awarding St. Mary’s the go-ahead run. Dons manager Nino Giarratano exploded out of the dugout towards Lampe, with language not fit for print. The umpires convened, and this time the call stood. Giarratano again erupted towards Lampe, who ejected him. Fans shouted at the umpires from the stands, and Giarratano got into a shouting match with umpire Bill Barnes, which took them all the way down the first base line into right field before Giarratano finally exited.
The bottom of the eighth saw the Dons battle back to take a 9-6 lead. The highlight of the inning came in Riley Helland’s at-bat, when he crushed a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Following Vranesh’s catch, runners at second and third came around to score, resulting in an incredibly rare two-RBI sacrifice fly.
“I’ve been watching baseball for 60 years and I’ve never seen something like that,” announcer Mike Richards said in the press box.
The Gaels battled back to send the game to extra innings.
In the bottom of the twelfth inning, Villaroman walked with one out. Jack Winkler won the game for the Dons with a double to deep center field which scored Villaroman to complete the sweep.