It wasn’t easy, but the Dons pulled off a hard-fought, three-game sweep of the Santa Clara Broncos with all three wins coming in extra innings at Stephen Schott Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
With the sweep, USF improved to 20-15 overall (8-4 in the WCC) while Santa Clara fell to 9-24 (0-12 in the WCC). The Dons are tied for second place with Pepperdine (8-4), 1.5 games behind conference leader Gonzaga (11-4).
Sophomore outfielder Bradley Zimmer earned Rawlings West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors thanks to his efforts against Santa Clara, in which he went 7-for-12 with two home runs, five RBI, five runs, five walks, a double, a stolen base, and an outfield assist. Zimmer is hitting .331 on the season with seven home runs and nine stolen bases.
USF came into the series with a three-game winning streak, their third such streak of the season. In two previous attempts, however, the Dons came up short in an effort to win their fourth straight.
That all changed on Friday. The Dons clawed back after falling behind 2-0 early. In the top of the sixth, USF loaded the bases with one out. Junior catcher Zachary Turner delivered a game-tying RBI single that notched the score at 2-2. After a strikeout from freshman outfielder Harrison Bruce, sophomore infielder Bob Cruikshank nearly broke the game open as he crushed the ball to center, but senior outfielder Matt Ozanne ran it down on the warning track with his back turned to the infield.
The score remained tied until the Dons pulled through in the 12th inning. Following two hit batsmen, senior infielder Jason Mahood hit a two-out ground ball to shortstop that should have ended the inning. But Santa Clara senior infielder Justin Viele botched the throw, allowing sophomore pinch runner Jourdan Weiks to score from second, senior outfielder Justin Maffei to advance to third, and Mahood to advance to second. After Zimmer was intentionally walked to load the bases, Turner drew a walk that scored Maffei and gave the Dons a 4-2 lead.
Although he allowed a run in the bottom of the 10th inning, senior right-hander Adam Cimber (2-1) sealed the win for the Dons. Cimber pitched the final 4.1 innings for the Dons, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.
Redshirt junior right-hander Kenny Treadwell (1-1) took the loss for Santa Clara.
Redshirt junior right-hander Abe Bobb started the game for the Dons and pitched well, surrendering two runs (one earned) on six hits and no walks over 7.1 innings.
“It was a hard-earned win tonight,” Head Coach Nino Giarratano said to USFDons.com. “We expected them to play well and they did. We made some mistakes early, and when we tied it their center fielder made a great play on the ball to center field.”
“We’ll take the win, they’re not easy to come by.”
With a four-game winning streak finally in hand, the Dons sought to make it five in a row.
USF tallied 17 hits in the game, yet they were just 4-for-20 (.200) with runners in scoring position. Eventually, the Dons broke through and won the game 5-3 in extra innings.
Following one-out singles by Mahood and Zimmer in the top of the 13th inning, Turner delivered a clutch RBI hit that gave the Dons a 4-3 lead. Cruikshank then delivered a doubled to left field that scored Zimmer and gave the Dons a 5-3 edge.
Senior pitcher Haden Hinkle (7-1) earned the win and finished off a strong 2.2 innings of work with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 13th inning to seal the victory. Hinkle also worked out of a bases loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the 12th inning that kept the Dons alive.
In the third inning, Zimmer clubbed an opposite field home run that gave the Dons a 2-0 lead. The home run was Zimmer’s sixth of the season, good for second in the WCC. Zimmer also notched his fourth outfield assist in the game, cutting down Viele as he tried to advance from first to third on a single to right field in the fifth inning.
Junior right-hander Alex Balog started the game for the Dons and allowed three earned runs on 10 hits and two walks over 7+ innings. He hit a batter to open the eighth inning and was pulled for senior right-hander Andrew Pulido, who escaped a first and third, one out situation to keep the score tied.
With the win, the Dons improved to 8-3 in one-run games and 4-1 in extra innings.
USF completed the three-game sweep with a 7-5, 10-inning victory over the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
With the scored tied at five in the top of the tenth inning, the Dons looked poised to take the lead when they had runners on second and third with nobody out. But Treadwell, on the mound again for Santa Clara, had other ideas, striking out two batters. With the rally seeming squandered, junior infielder Josh Miller delivered a two-run double down the left field line that gave the Dons a 7-5 edge and an eventual sweep of the Broncos.
Redshirt senior left-hander Bob Mott (2-1) earned the win and finished off Santa Clara in the bottom of the tenth inning. Mott pitched two scoreless innings, allowing no hits and two walks.
In the top of the first inning, after two quick outs, USF scored three runs on consecutive hits by Zimmer, Turner, senior outfielder Mitchell Rowan, and Miller.
In the top of the seventh inning, Zimmer blasted his seventh home run of the season (good for second in the WCC), which gave the Dons a 5-1 lead.
After two straight extra inning games, however, the USF bullpen looked taxed and could not hold the lead. Santa Clara tied the score with two runs in the seventh inning and two more in the eighth.
Luckily for USF, Miller’s tenth inning two-run double gave USF the lead and eventually the sweep.
Sophomore left-hander Christian Cecilio started for the Dons and allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings.
“I thought Christian Cecilio was great, our bullpen was a little tired but we did what we needed to,” Giarratano said to USFDons.com. “Maybe we’re a little worn out, but all-in-all it’s a great win. Santa Clara is the best 0-12 conference team we’ve ever played, their will and desire to come back and fight is great, but you have to give a little credit to our guys. Zach, Bradley, and Josh came up with big hits late in the game and you have to be happy with our result.”
With the win, the Dons have won nine of their last ten games and are 10-0 in games started by Cecilio this season.
USF opens a three-game series against Loyola Marymount at 3 P.M. this Friday at Benedetti Diamond.