University of San Francisco infielder Jack Winkler takes a swing against Cal in a March 7, 2019 game at Benedetti Diamond. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

After losing series in Provo, Dons will be scoreboard watching

USF baseball needs a few favors this weekend if Dons are to make WCC Tournament

While the USF Dons did manage to silence BYU’s bats for one night, spoiling the atmosphere for the largest crowd in the history of Larry H. Miller Field, the host Cougars took two games out of the three-game weekend set, meaning San Francisco will need help next weekend in order to reach the West Coast Conference Tournament.

USF’s conference slate is finished, and the Dons currently sit in fifth place in the WCC with a 15-12 record. As the top four qualify for the tournament in Stockton, the Dons will be following other scores closely while they finish the regular season by hosting Cal State Northridge.

With 20 runs in the series opener on Thursday night and another 17 in the finale on Saturday, Brigham Young (33-14, 17-7 WCC) sits atop the conference standings, already assured of a spot at Banner Island Ballpark. Gonzaga (28-20, 16-8) is also locked in. San Francisco (27-24, 15-12) has the minimum possible number of wins needed, but matchups in the final week and tiebreaker scenarios complicate things for the Dons.

Yes, USF does have the tiebreakers with both Pepperdine (23-21, 13-11) and Saint Mary’s (30-19, 15-9), but with the Waves hosting the Gaels next weekend, one of those teams is bound to finish ahead of the Dons in the standings.

That means that while San Francisco plays host to the Matadores, their eyes will be turned to Los Angeles, where Gonzaga travels to face Loyola Marymount (27-20, 14-10). The Lions won two of the three games at Benedetti Diamond in April, meaning that LMU will be able to surpass USF in the conference standings with just one win. If Gonzaga doesn’t do the Dons a massive favor by sweeping the series, the only other path that would put USF in the conference tournament requires Pepperdine to sweep Saint Mary’s, and LMU to win one game against Gonzaga. In that case, the Dons, Gaels and Lions would all be tied for fourth at 15-12, and with the superior head-to-head record, fueled by a sweep of Saint Mary’s, USF would get the final spot.

Of course, all of this would have been far easier if the Dons hadn’t surrendered 38 runs over the course of three days in Utah. Riley Ornido was torched for 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings in the opener, allowing four in the first inning and six in the fifth, capped off by a grand slam from BYU’s Brock Hale.

A seven-run bottom of the eighth provided the lopsided 20-3 final score, but the script was flipped in the second game as Scott Parker and Alex Pham managed to limit the Cougars to just one run. Parker set a new career high with 10 strikeouts over six innings, allowing just a single run on a sac fly in the bottom of the first. A Jacob Westerman triple and Jack Winkler double provided the key hits in a four-run top of the fourth, and Kyle Knell knocked in two more in the fifth as the Dons went on to win 9-1 before a record crowd of 3,189, many of whom stuck around until the bitter end to see the postgame fireworks show.

As good as Friday was for the USF pitchers, Saturday’s finale was another nightmare. A two-run Riley Helland double in the top of the second keyed an early four-run rally, but Joey Steele, getting a rare start instead of working in his traditional closing role, couldn’t hold the lead as Hale tied the game with a grand slam and Ryan Sepede put the Cougars in front with an RBI double.

Riki Urata’s RBI single in the top of the third quickly knotted things back up and a bases-clearing double from Winkler put the Dons ahead again, but just as the usually reliable Steele was roughed up, Julian Washburn also struggled at high elevation. Jackson Cluff answered Winkler with a three-run double of his own, and Mitch McIntyre put BYU ahead for good with a three-run blast. The hosts would add on another in the sixth on a Casey Jacobsen solo shot, and though RJ Cordeiro’s double would cut the lead back to three in the top of the seventh, Sepede and Jacobsen would each knock in runs with singles in the bottom of the frame and Cluff dealt the finishing blow, a three-run homer off of Grant Young, who had come in to relieve Pham. After pitching three scoreless innings on Friday, Pham was charged with five runs in 2 2/3 in Saturday’s finale.

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