University of San Francisco pitcher Riley Ornido delivers a pitch in the first inning against Portland on March 15, 2019. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

Ornido returns to form as USF blasts Pepperdine

Riley Ornido throws seven strong innings as Dons take series opener against Waves 9-6

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — After two straight rough outings, the San Francisco Dons needed Riley Ornido to look like an ace in Friday’s opening game of their three-game set with the Pepperdine Waves.

He did everything that was asked of him and then some, scattering five hits over seven innings of one-run ball to guide the way to a 9-6 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score implies.

“I just stuck with it and made a few adjustments to my mechanics,” Ornido said after walking just two batters over the course of his 105-pitch outing. “Today the big adjustment was getting me extended; I had been having trouble with that this entire year.”

That extension came from pitching coach Matt Hiserman’s focus on Ornido’s plant foot, an adjustment that allowed him to raise his velocity and get ahead in the count. Of his nine strikeouts, four came on splitters in the dirt, with catcher Thomas McCarthy throwing down to first to complete the out.

“I think that was a really nice adjustment by Matt and Riley to find something that was really gonna work for us this late in the season,” head coach Nino Giarratano said.

Ornido also had plenty of run support, as the Dons managed to chase Pepperdine starter Jonathan Pendergast — author of consecutive complete games entering the day — in the bottom of the third.

In a remarkable display of plate discipline and patience, nine straight San Francisco batters reached two strikes, with six staring down 0-2 counts in the process. Pendergast managed to retire just two of them.

It started with an 0-2 infield hit by Riki Urata, and after a Tyler Villaroman flyout and Jack Winkler strikeout, Riley Helland started a string of six straight batters to reach base, chasing Pendergast. Helland walked after fouling the first two pitches off, then Jonathan Allen worked a free pass after falling into an 0-2 hole to load the bases.

Robert Emery then drilled a three-run double off the high fence in right field and Nick Yovetich extended Pendergast’s misery by working a walk out of a 10-pitch battle, fouling off four straight pitches after the count had gone to 2-2. Kyle Knell, getting the bulk of the starts at second base after freshman Brandon Greim broke his wrist, doubled off the wall in right for another run, and an infield chopper by McCarthy after one last 0-2 count spelled the end of the line for Pendergast. He threw 52 pitches in the inning after getting through the first two on just 27.

“We wanted to get to him early,” Helland said. “Didn’t chase him out of the zone and just tried to hit our pitch.”

That inning was more than enough of a cushion to get Ornido through his seven innings, with the only blemish against him coming on Aharon Modlin’s fifth-inning RBI single. Before that, San Francisco (26-20, 13-9 West Coast Conference) added on two more runs in the bottom of the fourth on Helland’s fourth homer of the year, which cleared the 35-foot wall in right. USF added another in the sixth on a Jack Winkler solo shot that barely cleared the wall in left, and a double steal allowed Jacob Munoz to dash home in the seventh after sending a pinch-hit double to the gap in left-center.

It turned out those insurance runs were necessary as Pepperdine (19-19, 10-9) made things interesting with five runs in the ninth, all charged to Grant Young. He gave up five hits on the inning, including RBI singles by pinch-hitter Greg Mehlhaff and Matt Kanfer. Giarratano then brought in Josh Mollerus, who walked pinch-hitter Mike Malinchak for another run and allowed a two-run single to Reese Alexiades before closer Joey Steele finally took care of things for his 10th save of the year, striking out Charlie Welch and Modlin to end the game.

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