Small College Notebook: San Francisco State advances to conference baseball playoffs for first time

When Tony Schifano was hired by San Francisco State to head its baseball program, the Golden Gators had not so much as made the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament since joining the conference in 1998.

A former recruiting coordinator at UC Davis, Schifano set about building a group of freshmen, junior college players and Division I bouncebacks that he felt could contend within the next three years.

“We felt like, early in the fall, this team was a pretty special group that really enjoyed playing together,” Schifano said. “You could see them competing in the fall as if it was spring time.”

After taking splitting four games with Sonoma State this past weekend, and splitting four with conference front-runner No. 16 Cal State Monterey Bay the weekend prior, San Francisco State is headed into the six-team playoff at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark starting Wednesday at 11 a.m.

The Gators (24-26, 23-21 in CCAA) will send redshirt junior righty Jeff Piver (3-1,2.94ERA) to the mound in a rematch with the Otters (36-14, 30-14), who hit .312 as a team this season.

Also slated to go is Fresno State kickback Dillon Houser, who went 6-3 this season in 13 starts with a 4.14 ERA. He was the first player Schifano committed three years ago, and has yet to miss a start.

“He completely bought in three years ago,” Schifano said.

On the second day of the double-elimination tournament, Thursday, Schifano will start throw pitchers who have been with him since the beginning. Four years ago, right-handers Grant Vogenthaler (4-5, 5.00)  and Matthew Hernandez (5-4, 3.04) were a part of a team that went 19-29 overall and 17-23 in conference play.

“They’ve gone through the ups and downs of the program,” Schifano said. “It’s pretty special for them.”

Hernandez — San Francisco State’s ERA leader — had the ball last Saturday, the program’s senior day, when the Gators beat Sonoma State 7-3 to knock the SeaWolves out of contention for the tournament.

Hernandez scattered six hits over seven innings of work, allowing two earned runs and three walks, while striking out five.

“It was a pretty special day for him and the team,” Schifano said.

Offensively, six Gators are hitting .280 or better, led by all-conference selection Brady Dorn (.371). The shortstop has an on-base percentage of .446 this year, and has a team-high 13 doubles to his name.

Second baseman Jackson Kritsch is among the league leaders in hits, with 71, and comes into the tournament hitting .360, with a team-high 35 RBIs and 95 total bases.

Three-hole hitter Harley Lopez is batting .316 with six home runs and  is slugging .480.

“He’s been a huge utility player, playing first base and left field, and he pitches a little bit from the left side,” Schifano said.

“We had a three-year plan when I came in, and we tried to build from the ground up with some young freshmen three years ago, and sprinkle in some junior college players,” Schifano said after the team’s workout on Tuesday. “We were very fortunate to get a couple kickbacks from other schools at the Christmas break, and it just kind of gelled together.”

Other Small College Notes:

….. Academy of Art freshman graphic design major Brooke Larsen became the Urban Knights softball program’s first national Division II pitcher of the week this past week. Larsen has broken program single-season records in shutouts, strikeouts, and ERA. She is a seven-time PacWest Freshman of the Week this season and leads the team in both batting average as well as doubles (set single-season record) in addition to her pitching success.

….. Seven Urban Knights softball players earned all-conference nods, fresh off of the team learning that it would make the first NCAA Division II postseason appearance in the 10-year history of the program.

Head coach Sonja Garnett was named PacWest Coach of the Year, and Larsen was named to the All-PacWest First Team with her 21-4 record on the mound. Freshman infielder Jayda Alaan, senior infielder Samantha Klune and senior utility player Brenna Mitchell were named to the second team, while sophomore Gracie Sotomayor and sophomore Gabi Hirsch were named to the third team.

….. Four members of the San Francisco State softball team have earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) honors. Michelle Castro was named Freshman of the Year, as well as making the All-CCAA First Team. while senior third baseman Sara Higga, freshman outfielder Andrew Hildan and junior Haylen Nunes were named to the All-CCAA Second Team. The four honorees are the most for SF State since 2006.

….. In Academy of Art men’s track and field, junior Mobolade Ajomale — a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist with the Canadian 4×100 relay team — repeated as NCAA D2 champion in the indoor 60m and 200m. He now has 11 All-American honors and six individual titles.

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