BENEDETTI DIAMOND — The San Francisco Dons have been spoiled with ace Riley Ornido this season. The former walk-on reliever-turned-ace had been nothing short of dominant this season, headed into Friday’s West Coast Conference opener against the Portland Pilots.
With a 0.69 ERA and 27 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, Ornido had begun drawing dozens of scouts to his starts. While he didn’t get many swing-and-misses on Friday, he showed arguably a more valuable trait: Pitchability.
Ornido was far from sharp, but was gutty enough — and got enough help from his defense — to turn in his longest outing of the season in the Dons’ 2-1 win. More importantly, he was able to hold back the Pilots, help San Francisco bounce back from a heartbreaking midweek defeat, snap a seven-game Portland winning streak and make up for an anemic offense that stranded nine men over the course of the afternoon.
“It was outstanding to see him only strike out two today, and do what he does all the time, which is give us seven, eight strong innings, only gives up one run,” said head coach Nino Giarratano. “It’s just a testament. He doesn’t have that egotistical behavior where he’s struggling if he’s not striking guys out. He just keeps making pitches.”
After a slugfest at Fresno State that saw the Dons’ five-game winning streak snapped in an 8-6 loss on Tuesday, Ornido (4-1, 1-0 in WCC) struck out two and walked two on the day, but got 12 ground ball outs to keep Portland (14-5, 0-1) a largely off the base paths.
Ornido pounded away early, and then was able to send his two-seamer in on the Pilots’ hands to get them to fly out to right. The curve had batters fishing out of the zone and rolling over for grounders. Ornido only mixed in the split on Friday, to keep hitters honest and get swings in the dirt.
“That’s what Riley does: He sticks to his game plan and just attacks hitters,” said catcher Thomas McCarthy. “He finds a way to get them out, no matter if he has his A stuff, B stuff or C stuff. He’s going to find a way to get you out. He struggled in the beginning, but he had all three pitches today. He had his curveball, both fastballs — two-seam and four-seam — and he was locating really well. Got them reaching away and then pounded them in with a two-seam with a little bit of run. Then, he had his splitter, which is his out pitch, his best pitch.”
Behind eight innings from its Friday ace, San Francisco went 3-for-15 with runners on base, 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-2 with men on third and less than two outs. Upon hearing about the nine runners left on base, Giarratano winced.
“Rough day, offensively,” he said. “We had a lot of guys in scoring position, and just didn’t execute fine little things. A sacrifice bunt early, contact in the strike zone, we couldn’t do it three or four times. It was a struggle to try and score runs. We could very easily have put up seven had we just executed and gotten one base hit with runners in scoring position.”
In the bottom of the second, after a line-drive leadoff single by Dons designated hitter Robert Emery, sophomore right fielder Nick Yovetich sent the first pitch he saw from starter Eli Morse to the right side, scooting under the glove of first baseman Tracye Tammaro.
San Francisco would come up empty, though, as RJ Cordeiro struck out on a foul tip, and McCarthy bounced into a 4-3 double play. It wasn’t the first time San Francisco would waste an opportunity to break the game open.
After Tommaro made up for his miscue in the top of the third with a solo home run to right — Ornido’s first home run surrendered since the Feb. 15 opener — the Dons took a lead in the bottom of the fourth on a Jonathan Allen two-run homer high over the yellow line in the right field netting. It was Allen’s fifth of the year in 17 games, after he hit seven in 57 last season.
A line-drive single by Emery and a one-out liner high off the right field netting by Cordeiro put men at the corners, but McCarthy struck out looking and Emery was cut down trying to advance home on a wild pitch, ending the inning.
San Francisco would strand four men in the first five innings, but Ornido was able to hold Portland at bay. Ornido held the Pilots to 0-for-12 with runners on base.
“He didn’t have real good command of the fastball, and that was hard for him, but the split was good, the slider was good, and just what a great performance to be able to give us that, with not great stuff,” Giarratano said.
In the top of the fourth, an infield pop fly by Matt Kelly fell to the turf between Ornido, first baseman Riley Helland and third baseman Riki Urata, but Helland was able to cut Kelly down as he got greedy and tried to advance to second. Ornido then hit third baseman Daniel Lopez, who moved to second on a bleeder past the mound by left fielder Cody Hawkin. Ornido, though, was able to get out of the jam with a nifty change up to get Hunter Montgomery swinging to end the frame.
“From the get-go, I felt good, and throughout the game, I just made adjustments,” Ornido said. “I did that in the later innings, competing just as much as I could … I’m one of those pitchers who gets sharper the longer I go. As I went on, I started to realize I had to make conscious adjustments.”
With a man in scoring position in the top of the seventh, he made a big stretch to field a wide flip from first baseman Riley Helland at first for the second out, and then got a groundout to second to strand a man at third.
In the top of the eighth, Ornido got a clutch play on a bunt by third baseman Riki Urata, who charged a bunt by Dutton Elske and threw to second to erase Tammaro, who reached via a full-count walk. A fly-out to center and a 5-3 ground out to ended the inning.
“The command wasn’t quite there, but I just did the best I could and competed, got my fielders balls to track down, and it all worked out,” Ornido said.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Dons finally began to string hits together, with a groundball single through the right side by Cordeiro, followed up by a ringing liner to left by McCarthy, and then a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt by Urata. A hot shot back to the mound by Tyler Villaroman, though, was speared by Morse, who tagged out freshman pinch runner Brandon Greim, frozen between third and home. Helland, up with two men aboard, struck out looking to end the threat.
San Francisco loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth, but McCarthy struck out looking.
That didn’t wind up biting the Dons, as senior righty Joey Steele was able to nail down, striking out the side to earn the save.
“If you’re going to pitch like that and defend like that, you’re going to be successful,” Giarratano said. “We did some good things. The defense kept us in the game. Offensively? Wooh. That’s a head scratcher. That’s a loss-of-hair day.”