University of San Francisco reliever Alex Pham pitches in the sixth inning of the Dons’ 4-2 loss against the UC Davis Aggies on April 23, 2019 at Benedetti Diamond in San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

Dons squander chance to sweep, fall 10-1 to Pepperdine

USF baseball couldn’t secure an important conference sweep against the visiting Waves

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — The timely hitting that was present in the San Francisco Dons’ Friday and Saturday wins over Pepperdine was nowhere to be found on Sunday, as the Waves left town with a 10-1 victory, salvaging the final game of the three-game West Coast Conference set.

Despite striking out just three times over six innings against Pepperdine starter Trevor Kniskern and getting frequent loud contact in the first three innings, USF’s offense was unable to get results, wasting a good start from Alex Pham. Pepperdine (20-20, 11-10 WCC) finally took the lead with three runs in the sixth to break the scoreless deadlock, then rallied for five more runs in the seventh to pull away.

The sixth-inning Waves rally could have been seen as karmic retribution after San Francisco (27-21, 14-10) was unable to cash in after a leadoff walk in the fifth, thanks to a failed bunt attempt. Kyle Knell, a redshirt freshman with just a .121 average but a keen eye, worked his second walk of the game to start the inning, but Riki Urata was unable to bunt him over, striking out on a foul bunt with two strikes. Knell was eventually caught stealing to end the inning, and the visitors made good on their opportunity in the next frame.

A leadoff single by Pepperdine second baseman Wyatt Young — a freshman generously listed at 5-foot-7 — and a base knock by Waves first baseman Brandt Belk put men on first and second, and the duo each moved up 90 feet on a groundout by right fielder Matt Kanfer. Pepperdine center fielder Cory Wills, who struck out with the bases loaded to end Saturday’s game, scored Young on a grounder that led to Belk getting caught in a rundown at third.

Even after a two-out single by designated hitter Charlie Welch, the Dons thought they’d be able to get out of the inning as the dugout twice celebrated when Pham appeared to strike out left fielder Duncan McKinnon looking. Both pitches were called balls, and he ultimately singled to bring Wills home.

“That was tough,” head coach Nino Giarratano said. “We thought we had the guy struck out twice.”

A third RBI single, an infield hit by third baseman Aharon Modlin, made it a three-run rally.

The wheels fell off in the seventh as Belk doubled in Young for one of his three two-baggers and five hits on what was a remarkable day for the Pepperdine first baseman.

Pham was then relieved after getting Kanfer to fly out, and with Kasey Kopelmaa unable to get the job done in a lefty-lefty matchup with a walk to Wills, Daniel Slominski was called on to try to end the inning. Slominski got weak contact, inducing a chopper from Welch, but shortstop Jack Winkler’s throw to first was wild, putting the icing on the cake on a weekend where Winkler went just 1-for-12.

Two more runs scored after the error as Pepperdine’s ninth-place hitter, catcher Joe Caparis, singled up the middle. After going 0-for-4 Friday, Caparis managed to pick up five hits over the final two games of the series.

The difficulties he encountered in the sixth and seventh gave Pham a less-than-stellar stat line on a day where he pitched much better than the numbers would suggest. Of the 10 hits he gave up, five came in the sixth, and none of those were hit particularly hard. He walked just one and struck out nine. The third time through the order proved to be his undoing.

Offensively, the Dons finally pushed a meaningless run across in the seventh on an RJ Cordeiro groundout, and they’d finish the day with just three hits despite solid contact in the early innings. Jacob Munoz and Nick Yovetich each made bids for homers in the second after a Robert Emery single, but both died in deep center field. Riley Helland met the same fate in the third with two men on.

“We put some really good swings on the ball in the wrong spot,” Giarratano said. “It just came down to not being able to execute with runners on first and second to give Pham the lead. Pham was great. I thought he gave us a wonderful opportunity to win.”

Failing to cash in on that opportunity has the Dons in fourth place in the WCC, tied with a Loyola Marymount team that beat them for the head-to-head tiebreaker. With just one conference series left (next week at BYU), the Dons will be doing some scoreboard watching as all of their opponents aside from LMU have six conference games to play. Maintaining their position in fourth would qualify USF for the conference tournament, set to be held May 23-25 at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton.

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