University of San Francisco’s Alex Pham pitches against Portland at Dante Benedetti Diamond. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

University of San Francisco baseball even series with first-place Loyola Marymount

Alex Pham and Scott Parker turn in clutch pitching performances against first-place Lions

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — Scott Parker set a new career-high with nine strikeouts and Alex Pham allowed just two hits over 3 2/3 innings as the University of San Francisco Dons flipped the script on conference-leading Loyola Marymount after Friday’s.

The Dons scored their three runs early before turning things over to Pham, who typically pitches after Grant Nechak on Sundays, but was called into action a day sooner than usual.

“If we win on Friday, we can push him back to Sunday and try to win the series, but losing on Friday pushes him into the mix,” head coach Nino Giarratano said. “We can’t give it away, and since the game’s so close, he’s our guy.”

The Dons, behind Pham and Parker, tied the weekend series with the Lions with a 3-2 on Saturday afternoon, setting up a Sunday showdown that could loom large late in the season.

Pham came in with a man on first after Tommy Delgado’s one-out single in the sixth and proceeded to strike out both pinch-hitter Ethan Patrick and Alex Lambeau. He then worked around Dylan Hirsch’s one-out double in the seventh, the sixth time the No. 9 hitter had reached base over the first two games of the series. Hirsch came up with a chance to be the hero in the ninth after Kenny Oyama’s two-out single, but Pham induced a game-ending grounder.

Offensively, San Francisco (18-12, 7-4 WCC) was largely held in check by Loyola Marymount starter Josh Agnew and reliever Kyle Mora — a San Jose native — but managed to do enough in support of Parker and Pham. Tyler Villaroman, fresh off his first career homer on Friday, singled to lead off the bottom of the first and came around to score on Riley Helland’s opposite-field single. Freshman second baseman Brandon Greim hit his first career homer in the bottom of the second and pushed across what would prove to be the decisive run in the bottom of the fourth, singling to center field after Robert Emery singled and advanced to second on a Jacob Munoz bunt.

After Greim’s single, San Francisco would do little to speak of offensively, with Jack Winkler singling in the fifth and reaching base again in the eighth on a hit by pitch, but those three runs would hold up. Parker managed to keep opposing hitters on their toes by utilizing his changeup in addition to the standard cutter, slider and curveball that he had used out of the bullpen in prior years.

“I was fortunate to have a big zone and they’re an aggressive team, so I never really had to go to the middle,” the redshirt senior said.

The Lions (19-11, 8-3) would score despite having two outs and the bases empty in each the fourth and fifth innings, getting RBI singles from Delgado and Cooper Uhl, but Parker would avert further damage by striking out Steven Chavez and Brandon Shearer to end each of those innings.

While the offense wasn’t at its strongest for the Dons, they did see bright spots not only from Greim, but also from Villaroman, who not only scored the first run but continued to hit the ball hard throughout the day, including a sharp liner to Shearer at third in the fifth inning.

“He’s been moving forward approach-wise,” Giarratano said. “We got him to go shorter to the ball, and I’m glad with the way he’s seeing it right now.”

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