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College Baseball: USF Dons slip into third place in West Coast Conference race with series loss to Pepperdine

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Riley Ornido pitches at Dante Benedetti Diamond early this season. (Courtesy / USF Dons Baseball)

The top four teams in the West Coast Conference standings at season’s end head to Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif., for the conference tournament.

The San Francisco Dons came into this weekend second in the league, behind frontrunner Pepperdine, who they played in a three-game set down in Malibu.

After dropping two of those three, however, the Dons’ path to the postseason has now gotten a bit more complicated. Dropping two of three in Malibu puts the Dons in third place in what has effectively become a five-team race to secure one of the top four spots in the conference standings. 

San Francisco (25-22, 14-10 WCC) will host BYU (19-21, 8-13) next weekend, but will be spectators for the final week of conference play. The WCC schedule covers ten weeks, and USF’s bye weekend is the last of those, so the Dons will be playing non-conference games against Kansas State while the rest of the picture falls into place.

USF took the opener on Friday afternoon, using a four-run second inning and a strong outing by Southern California native Thomas Ponticelli to win, 6-4. Jonathan Allen and Michael Perri each hit two-run singles off of Pepperdine (24-18, 14-7) starter Cooper Chandler, and Ponticelli lasted into the eighth inning while allowing just two walks. Brendan Jenkins retired all four men he faced, including two by strikeout, for the save.

It was Pepperdine that struck first in the second game with a Jordan Qsar double in the bottom of the fourth. The Dons took the lead in the fifth on a two-run single by Allen, but a three-run bottom of the sixth put the hosts over the edge.

After loading the bases with three singles, including a bunt, the Waves scored on a sac fly, a groundout and an error. USF did scratch back in the seventh on freshman Jack Winkler’s first collegiate home run, but a solo homer by Pepperdine’s Cory Wills in the bottom of the eighth gave the Waves a key insurance run, made a winner out of Jonathan Pendergast and gave USF hurler Riley Ornido just his second loss of the year.

Pepperdine led Sunday’s finale 4-0 into the eighth, then erupted for six runs to break the game open and finish off the series with a 10-2 win. As great as Jenkins had been for most of the year, he ran out of gas in his third inning of work and was tagged for five runs.

The Dons will now head to Reno for a non-conference game against Nevada on Tuesday to conclude a home-and-home. The Wolf Pack took the first meeting, 6-3, on March 20.

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