Scott Parker pitches for the University of San Francisco against Pepperdine in a game at Benedetti Diamond in San Francisco, Calif. on May 4, 2019. (Chris M. Leung / USF Dons Baseball)

Dons fall short of tourney, pass torch to youngsters

San Francisco finishes the season with a sweep at home, but won’t make WCC Tournament

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — The San Francisco Dons may have seen their playoff hopes come to an end Saturday when wins by Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s ended any possibility of a trip to the West Coast Conference Tournament, but they made the most of Sunday’s season-ending doubleheader, sweeping Cal State Northridge as the senior class figuratively passed the torch to the youngsters.

Scott Parker held the visiting Matadors off the board until the seventh inning of the first game, an abbreviated 6-3 USF win, and the Dons took the back end of the doubleheader 6-2 as Josh Mollerus, a freshman who credits some of his success to Parker’s advice, threw 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball.

“He’s played such a big part,” Mollerus said of Parker. “I’ll be forever grateful.”

While it was the student who took the reins in the finale, it was the teacher who dominated the early affair, coming up just shy of a complete game in the seven-inning early game.

“I wanted to extend it as much as possible,” said Parker, who knew Sunday would be his final time suiting up in green and gold. “Would’ve liked to finish that last inning, but it’s all right.”

He certainly went out with a bang, allowing just one hit until the seventh, in which Damiano Palmegiani led off with a double and Wesley Ghan-Gibson followed with a two-run homer. A Robert Bullard infield hit ended the day for Parker, who left to a rousing standing ovation from a crowd that included his parents, sister and grandmother.

Bullard would later score on an error, but as an unearned run, it meant the southpaw was able to finish his season with an ERA of 3.99, a year in which he rose from being a seldom-used reliever to the team’s No. 2 starter, and his role became even more important when staff ace Riley Ornido had a handful of rough outings late in the season.

“I always believed I could do it,” Parker said. “It came with some late development and I was happy to develop a couple more pitches.”

That development was critical for a USF team that saw starters Grant Nechak and Landen Bourassa go down to injuries, and it meant a meteoric rise for Parker, who was effective out of the bullpen as a redshirt sophomore in 2017 but struggled mightily in his junior season, pitching to a 6.48 ERA. The 70 innings he threw as a senior exceeded the prior two years combined, and nearly matched the output from his first three seasons on the Hilltop.

“He really stepped it up for us this year after a couple of guys went down,” Mollerus said.

The offense ensured there would be nothing in the way of Parker picking up his eighth and final win, chasing Northridge starter Blake Sodersten after just one out in the first. Riley Helland doubled in the game’s first run after back-to-back singles by Tyler Villaroman and Jack Winkler, and a two-run double by Robert Emery made it a 3-0 game after just four Dons had come to the plate. A Jacob Westerman sac fly after Blaine Traxel relieved Sodersten made it a four-run inning, and Emery — who graduated over the weekend, but is expected to return as a graduate student next year — added two more runs in the fifth inning on his fifth homer of the year.

Just as the first game was a testament to Parker’s achievements, the second game of the twin bill further served as an extension of the pregame ceremonies that had honored the senior class. RJ Cordeiro started both games, making six assists on grounders from third base, and Jordan Barchus started the latter contest, reaching on a bunt single that earned roars from the USF dugout.

“You can really see what kind of teammates they’ve been, what kind support they’ve given to everybody else, how hard they’ve worked at practice and how much they’ve given to the team,” head coach Nino Giarratano said. “It’s just a testament to how hard they all work.”

The dugout also gave its support to some of the underclassmen, including some good-natured teasing after catcher Chase Hodkinson successfully threw down to first to complete a strikeout in the ninth inning, something he struggled with in Friday’s extra-inning loss.

“It’s a nice way to pick him up and move on from that,” Giarratano said.

As boisterous and excited as the Dons were on Sunday, Mollerus took control of the middle of the finale with a much quieter approach, one that wasn’t lost on his head coach.

“I turned to coach (Matt) Hiserman and said, ‘The most improved guy on the mound this year is Josh, by far,’” Giarratano said. “He’s really moved his way in front of a lot of guys and into a situation where he could really help us at this point next year. He’s found the breaking ball and the command with the fastball has been fabulous. I’m excited about his development.”

The only man to reach base against Mollerus was Brandon Bohning, who doubled with one out in the fourth but was thrown out trying to steal third by catcher Thomas McCarthy. Cal State Northridge (22-30) would do little offensively from there, only scoring two runs in the third inning after the Dons had put on five in the second, powered by two-run doubles from Jason Kreske and Villaroman.

Having concluded his ride on a similar trajectory to Mollerus, Parker credited the freshman’s mental approach for his success as the year went on.

“We preach getting better by one percent each day, and he’s done a really good job of staying focused and doing his thing,” Parker said.

Mollerus’ quiet demeanor echoed that of another key leader among the outgoing class, Benji Post. Though Post was limited by injuries to 4 2/3 innings, mainly in mop-up duty, the senior still embraced what he could do to make the Dons stronger.

“I try to lead by example through my actions,” he said. “I obviously kind of struggled physically with some of my injuries, but I stayed consistent emotionally.”

Between Parker’s rise, Post’s leadership and role players like Cordeiro and Barchus, there were plenty of contributions from the class that was honored on Sunday that went beyond Jonathan Allen and Riley Helland’s hitting. The mix of those skills and intangible qualities helped San Francisco (30-26) reach the 30-win mark for the first time since 2013, a year in which future Major Leaguers Bradley Zimmer and Adam Cimber suited up for the Dons.

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