During a wet weekend in the Bay Area, the Diamond Dons traveled from the grass and sod of Benedetti Diamond to the artificial turf field of Laney College, in Oakland, for a three-game series against the Gauchos of UCSB. The move was prompted by the two and a half inches of rain that soaked USF’s home ballpark and fell continuously throughout the weekend.
Luckily for the Dons, the rain didn’t seem to affect junior pitcher Kyle Zimmer. The San Diego native threw a nine strikeout, complete game shutout in the series opener on Saturday, leading to a 2-0 win for San Francisco.
A pre-season All-American, Zimmer faced off against the Gaucho’s ace Andrew Vasquez, who leads the Big West in nearly every major pitching statistic. With the Zimmer at 6’5” and Vasquez at 6’6”, the two lanky California natives each kept their opponents scoreless for five innings. The Dons struck first in the sixth inning on a single up the middle by senior Nik Balog, sending senior Adam Clear across the plate. With his shutout ruined, Vasquez was pulled and Gaucho senior Zak Edgington entered the game in relief. Edgington was able to shut the Dons down, holding USF to one run and ending the inning with the bases loaded. Now working with a lead, Zimmer relaxed on the mound and was able to keep the UCSB offense unproductive for the rest of the game. He earned a 2-0 win for USF, with the Dons final run coming off a sacrifice fly by junior Justin Maffei in the eighth.
Zimmer lowered his ERA to a minuscule 1.62 while striking out nine batters in the water-logged game. With Zimmer moving to 2-1 on the season, sophomore Alex Balog looked to secure his first win of 2012 in game two of the double header.
With rain still tumbling down, USF took the second game in similar fashion to the opener. The Dons were quiet the first time through the batting order, but the silence was broken by three consecutive hits to open up the fourth inning. The first was a single by senior Ted LeMasters, who moved over on Nik Balog’s single and was later driven in on a single from senior Mason Morioka. With Balog on third, UCSB starter Matt Vedo bounced a pitch past his catcher, allowing Balog to steal home and extend USF’s lead to 2-0. Bradley Zimmer capped off the inning with an RBI sacrifice fly ball, and Alex Balog returned to the bump with a comfortable 3-0 lead in the top half of the fifth. The 6’5” right-hander kept the Gauchos quiet for the rest of his seven inning tenure. In the bottom of the sixth Bradley Zimmer added another RBI on a hard-hit double to put the Dons ahead 4-0. After his seven-inning, two-hit shutout performance, Alex Balog handed the game off to the junior left-hander Elliot Waterman, who proceeded to shut out the Gauchos over the final pair of innings.
The Dons won the first two games of the three game series on two solid pitching performances. On the season, the Dons hurlers have amassed a team ERA of just 2.39 and held opponents to a batting average of just .224. While USF eventually fell to UCSB 9-5 in game three on Sunday, the Dons arms have proven that they are amongst the best in not only the WCC, but in the NCAA as a whole. The Diamond Dons wrapped the weekend at an even 13-13, with only one more game to go before the opening of the West Coast Conference season. With arms like Zimmer, Balog and Waterman, the Dons will look to defend their WCC crown and head back to the NCAA tournament. USF will play their final pre-season game against Sacramento State on Wednesday, March 28 at 2:00pm on Benedetti Diamond. They open WCC play against USD on Saturday, March 31 at AT&T Park.