For all of the complex decisions that come with managing a baseball team, one thing has been simple for USF head coach Nino Giarratano: give the ball to Scott Parker and Alex Pham, and it’ll result in a Dons victory.
Parker won his fifth straight start Friday night, 6-3 over the Pacific Tigers, and Pham came in to relieve him for the third consecutive week, this time pitching four shutout innings with five strikeouts to collect the save.
While Pacific (21-17, 8-9 West Coast Conference) also tried to piggyback two pitchers, the Tigers’ efforts were less successful as USF racked up 14 hits and took the lead for good with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth against Ricky Reynoso, who relieved starter Hayden Pearce after three innings. The Dons put together a string of four straight hits to go ahead 4-3, with a Jason Kreske infield single and pinch-hit opposite-field knock by Thomas McCarthy starting the rally. Riki Urata singled on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases, and Tyler Villaroman brought Kreske home with one of his three hits on the night. Jack Winkler, who also had three hits, was unable to help add on has he struck out, but a wild pitch brought home pinch-runner Matt Mendibles for a two-run lead.
That rally meant Parker left with the lead, and Pham took control from there. San Francisco (22-16, 11-6) tacked on one more in the top of the eighth for good measure, with Winkler bringing Urata home on a two-out single after the third baseman had picked up his second hit of the night.
Though USF never trailed, it wasn’t until the top of the sixth that the Dons were able to create separation. They got two runs in the top of the first on an error by Pacific third baseman Alex LeForestier, and the Tigers quickly answered with one of their own in the bottom half. James Arakawa walked on four pitches and Keaton Glover reached on a Urata error. After a one-out walk to LeForestier to load the bases, an infield hit by Tyler Ryan got the hosts on the board. Parker got out of the inning with the lead, though, as Urata threw home on Kevin Sandri’s grounder and Bryce Kirk struck out to end the inning.
Robert Emery’s two-out single gave the Dons a 3-1 lead in the third, but a James Free homer in the bottom of the fifth knotted things up. Parker did allow one more hit after the two-run blast, a two-out single by Ryan, but he would avoid further damage and the string of hits in the top of the sixth made him the winning pitcher.
While Parker’s line of six hits and three walks over five innings isn’t amazing by itself, when combined with Pham’s excellence out of the bullpen, it makes the two an especially deadly combo, with the left-handed Parker and right-handed Pham combining to throw batters off their game, even when they know the tandem is coming.