College Baseball: San Francisco Dons head to Pepperdine for pitching-heavy series

The USF baseball team is bound for Malibu, but relaxing on the beach isn’t in the weekend plans. All attention will be on the showdown between the top two teams in the West Coast Conference as the second-place Dons pay a visit to the Pepperdine Waves.

Pepperdine (22-17, 12-6 WCC) has won ten conference titles and is the gold standard of the conference. San Francisco (24-21,13-8)  is in search of its third conference title, but has lost four of its last five games.

The Waves, on the other hand, swept San Diego over the weekend, even without star hurler Wil Jensen, whose season ended prematurely with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Jensen led the nation with a 0.74 ERA, but Jonathan Pendergast and Cooper Chandler have both stepped up in his absence. Pendergast — a right-handed junior — is 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 32.2 innings of conference play. Chandler is 4-0 in his last seven appearances (including three starts) with a 1.24 ERA in 29 innings.

Righty Christian Stoutland (3-2, 4.30 ERA) — who has made the most starts of any Pepperdine pitcher, with 10 — will take the mound on Friday, in Jensen’s stead.

The Dons certainly have the pitching staff to go toe-to-toe with Pepperdine’s. San Francisco has the luxury of a Sunday starter with Friday-quality numbers: Canadian right-hander Landen Bourassa’s 3.06 ERA is the highest of the three starters that manager Nino Giarratano is expected to send to the rubber.

The Dons front two starters are arguably even more impressive: Thomas Ponticelli (5-2, 2.57 ERA) will square off with Chandler on Friday, and Mountain View native Riley Ornido (8-1, 1.57) will pitch on Saturday.

With such excellent starters on the mound, runs will likely be at a premium. Michael Perri, who transferred to San Francisco from Pepperdine after the 2015 season, will need to be a huge part of the offensive efforts for the Dons. A Bishop O’Dowd alum, Perri anchors the lineup in the three hole, with a team-leading .348 batting average, and is tied with Jonathan Allen with seven homers. Allen, the leadoff man, is hitting .339 and leads the team with 19 walks and 12 steals

While crooked numbers and late-inning rallies are often common in college games, the Dons have one of the best college bullpens around, anchored by Brendan Jenkins, who was named to the Stopper of the Year midseason watch list. Jenkins has seven saves and a 2.01 ERA over 40 1/3 innings. Pepperdine’s bullpen has Michael Mahony, a specialist who has allowed just one earned run in 19 innings, as well as Jordan Qsar, a two-way player who leads the team with five saves and seven home runs.

Series At a Glance:

Fri., May 4: Thomas Ponticelli (5-2,2.57) vs. Christian Stoutland (3-2, 4.30) at 3 p.m.
Sat., May 5: Riley Ornido (8-1, 1.57) vs. Jonathan Pendergast (4-4, 2.93) at 1 p.m.
Sun., May 6: Landen Bourassa (6-3, 3.06) vs. Cooper Chandler (4-2, 3.74) at 1 p.m.

Ethan Kassel

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