Last weekend April 14-16 the USF men’s baseball team squared off in a three game series against the Lions at Loyola Marymount University. The Dons took two out of three games overall, finally jump starting their struggling offense in what turned out to be a grueling weekend for the Diamond Dons.
During the course of a competitive season, sports teams are often faced with a skid; a string of bad luck combined with poor play that sends a club into a tailspin. The losses begin to accumulate, causing players to second guess their abilities and play with tension rather than relaxed confidence. Such was the case when the Diamond Dons traveled to the state of Oregon over Easter. While children looked for chocolate eggs, the Dons were searching for a win, one that they would neither find in Eugene nor Portland, as both the Ducks and the Pilots swept the Dons. Tumbling down the West Coast and carrying a five game losing streak into a weekend series with LMU, the Dons needed runs to get back into the win column. While up North, USF could not generate any noteworthy offense, averaging a minuscule 1.6 runs per game. It seems, however, that USF simply left their bats in the Golden State.
After heavy rain and thunderstorms postponed Fridays contest, USF found their offensive stride in game-one of a Saturday doubleheader, beating LMU 13-9. After trading goose-egg for goose-egg with LMU for two innings, USF exploded for five runs on five hits and an error in the top-half of the third. Junior ace Kyle Zimmer (3-3, 2.79 ERA) then won the inning for USF by keeping LMU to a single run in their half of the third.
LMU, however, would not let USF pull away, despite senior Nik Balog going 3-6 from the dish with a big-fly and 5 RBIs. The Lions pulled to within two runs by a tally of 7-5 at the end of four innings. USF responded posting two more runs in the fifth to all but ice the game. The hit parade continued, with both teams amassing 22 runs on 28 hits, 11 of which were the extra base variety. While Balog lead the Dons’ attack, senior backstop Mason Morioka contributed with a homer for the third time this year. Zimmer collected his third win of the 2012 campaign by going seven innings for the Dons.
Tired from running the bases all morning, USF dropped a close contest in game two on Saturday, falling 4-2 to the Lions. The second game of the day started off well for the Dons, jumping out to an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single from senior Adam Clear in the first frame of play. Sophomore Alex Balog (1-3, 3.21 ERA) took the mound for USF, surrendering four runs through 6.2 innings. While Balog held the Lions to three singles during his tenure, he issued six walks enabling those singles to plate runs for LMU. Balogs’ opposite number, LMU rookie Trevor Megill, held the Dons to a single run until a double from Ted LeMasters sent him back to the dugout in the seventh inning. Jason Mahood laced a one-out double that, besides scoring LeMasters, nearly tied the game, were it not for a career relay by the LMU defense, effectively killing the USF rally.
The Lions were able to re-claim their two run lead in the tail end of the seventh inning after scoring their fourth run off Balog, before USF went to their bullpen to close out the contest. Despite dropping the game, USF had driven in 17 runs on 25 hits in two games against the Lions. By contrast, the Diamond Dons plated only eight runs total in five games during their Tour De Oregon. The USF offense was alive and well heading into game three of the weekend series.
Ted LeMasters and the Dons needed an extra inning to dispatch the Lions in game three of their weekend series. With the game tied in the final frame of regulation, LMU seemed to have won after a leadoff single and subsequent sac bunt gave LMU a runner on second with one out. LMU’s David Edwards drove a single into left field where LeMasters was stationed. Gathering the ball at a dead sprint, LeMasters delivered a strike to Morioka who tagged LMU’s game winning run out at home plate. With victory still achievable, the Dons grabbed their bats and promptly placed Morioka into scoring position to start the 10th inning. After saving the game defensively for the Dons, LeMasters nearly put one over the fences. Driving the ball to the warning track, LeMasters got his sac fly plenty deep for Morioka to score the go-ahead run from third. Jason Mahood (2-6, 4 RBIs), not wanting to play an 11th inning, laced a two-run double to left that put USF on top 8-5. Elliot Waterman (3-0, 1.35 ERA) blanked the Lions in the 10th, giving the lofty lefty his third win of the season.
The heroics displayed by LeMasters in the 9th and 10th innings were the product of a stressful game that saw the Dons blow a 5-0 lead. USF scored quickly once more, netting two runs in the top of the first inning on a solo shot by Justin Maffei and an RBI fielder’s choice by Matt Chavez. Abe Bobb took the hill for USF and recorded four punch-outs, but allowed three runs through 5.1 innings of work. Nik Balog had another clutch at-bat when he blasted a three-run triple in the fourth, seemingly crushing LMU’s chance at a comeback. Balog’s triple, however, had the opposite effect on the game. LMU scored once in the fourth and twice in the sixth before they tied the game in the 7th inning. Meanwhile the Dons’ bats went cold and USF was silent offensively until LeMasters stole the show in extras.
USF is home this weekend against Gonzaga, starting Friday April 20 at 3:00. The Dons will have to make up a lot of ground in the WCC race, as their record rests at 16-23 (3-6 WCC). With seven of their next eight games on Benedetti Diamond, USF is in prime position to climb above .500 and fight for the WCC crown in front of the home crowd.