Poor defense costs USF in extras after five-run comeback

Riley Ornido gets battered, but the Dons still had a chance to win late against Cal State Northridge

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — Alex Pham struck out the first three batters he faced in the top of the 11th inning of Friday’s game between San Francisco and Cal State Northridge, but he was still on the mound with just one out.

Two poor defensive plays by catcher Chase Hodkinson had cost the Dons, and just a few minutes later, the visiting Matadors took the lead on yet another San Francisco error, and Northridge would hang on for a 10-9 extra-inning win in a sloppy but nonetheless compelling game.

San Francisco starter Riley Ornido gave up a pair of three-run homers and lasted just two innings in his final start of the regular season and perhaps of his collegiate career, yet the Dons were able to come back from a five-run deficit and force extras before coming up painstakingly short in the 11th.

Pham struck Robert Bullard out on a pitch in the dirt to open the decisive inning, but Hodkinson overthrew first baseman Riley Helland, allowing Bullard to not only reach, but take second. Pinch-hitter Wesley Ghan-Gibson struck out on a foul bunt, and shortstop Brandon Bohning chased a pitch in the dirt, but managed to beat the throw to first as Hodkinson hesitated on his throw, looking Bullard back to second before firing down to Helland.

Matadors freshman Damiano Palmegiani then walked, and with the bases loaded, Denzel Clarke hit a grounder to third that the usually sure-handed Riki Urata fielded deep in the hole, but he threw wide of home, allowing Bullard to score. Pham was late to cover on the play as Bohning raced home as well to give Cal State Northridge (22-28) a two-run lead, all without a hit.

“We just played bad baseball. That’s three really bad plays,” Dons head coach Nino Giarratano said. “That was difficult to see.”

That easily-avoidable second run loomed large in the bottom half, as the Dons would try to come back against Blake Schriever, who allowed back-to-back pinch-hitters to reach base as Jason Kreske singled to center and Jacob Munoz walked. A third consecutive pinch-hitter, Jordan Barchus, singled to right to score Kreske and put Munoz on third, but Tyler Villaroman struck out after failing to lay down a squeeze bunt. Jack Winkler came up as USF’s last hope, and though he hit it on the screws, it was right at Bohning, who caught it to end the game.

While San Francisco (28-26) was largely impressive on offense, pounding out 12 hits and making tons of loud contact, the pitching wasn’t so sharp. Ornido — the Dons’ ace — turned in his second straight poor outing, allowing a three-run homer to Blake Doremus to give the Matadors the lead just four batters into the game and allowing a three-run homer to Sean Skelly in the second inning to make it 6-1. Kyle Barret started the rally in the second inning, striking out but reaching on a Thomas McCarthy passed ball.

“He just wasn’t competitive,” Giarratano said of Ornido. “He was feeling sorry for himself a little bit and was down a little bit emotionally. We needed him to be a better competitor today, and that’s what cost him. When you don’t have that, you can’t be successful.”

Even with their ace struggling, San Francisco did get a solo homer from Winkler in the bottom of the first and four runs in the bottom of the third to draw within one, with Helland delivering an RBI double and Jonathan Allen tripling home two more before scoring on a throwing error by Northridge third baseman Josh Cerpa that extended the inning.

Grant Young, who came on for Ornido, gave up a two-run double to Andrew Lucas with two outs in the fourth inning to open the gap to 8-5, but the Dons got two more unearned runs in the fifth as Winkler reached on a two-out Bohning error and scored on a Helland double. Helland would advance to third on Allen’s single and score on a balk to cut the lead to one yet again, and the hosts would pull even in the sixth on an RJ Cordeiro pinch-hit single to bring home Jacob Westerman, who started the inning with a double.

It was a chaotic game on a chaotic weekend for San Francisco, with graduation ceremonies going on and the team’s fate for next week’s conference tournament up in the air, as the Dons keep an eye on results of games in Southern California. Both Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s lost on Friday, keeping USF’s playoff hopes alive, but San Francisco’s play against Northridge certainly wouldn’t cut it should they make it to Stockton next weekend.

“Sure, there’s a lot going on, but our guys have got to do a better job of understanding how to stay in the present moment and play the game that’s in front of them,” Giarratano said.

The seven walks and pair of Dons errors were a sign of some of the distractions getting to them, though Helland, who was wearing his robes at a Friday morning ceremony, managed to play through the noise, going 2-for-5 with two RBI, a small victory on an otherwise frustrating day on the diamond for the hosts.

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