FILE: Tyler Villaroman readies to take a swing against Portland in a game at Dante Benedetti Diamond on March 17, 2019. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

USF Baseball: Dons drop second at home against first-place LMU

Tyler Villaroman hits his first career home run, but San Francisco can’t keep up with Lions

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — Considering the resemblance of Loyola Marymount’s uniforms to those of the Minnesota Twins, it should be no surprise that Codie Paiva, wearing the same number 17 that Twins ace Jose Berrios wears, put up a stellar performance on Friday afternoon.

The Hawaiian right-hander held the University of San Francisco scoreless over 6 1/3 innings as the Dons fell 2-1 to LMU, suffering just their second home loss of the season in the opener of a three-game series against the WCC-leading Lions.

“By far, that’s the best guy we’ve seen,” San Francisco manager Nino Giarratano said. “Three-pitch mix, he threw the ball where he wanted to throw it and he was competitive pitch-by-pitch. He was good today and we hung in there.”

The Dons (17-12, 6-4 WCC) did finally get Paiva to sweat in the seventh, loading the bases with a parade of one-out singles by Robert Emery, Jacob Munoz and Brandon Greim, but reliever CJ Fernandezees came in and got pinch-hitter Jacob Westerman to bounce into an inning-ending double play. The twin killing closed the book on Paiva, who walked just one and allowed five hits while striking out six.

USF did get a run back as junior center fielder Tyler Villaroman, known more for his speed than his pop, hit his first career homer off Fernandezees to lead off the bottom of the eighth, but the Dons would get no closer. Riley Helland walked, and Nick Frasso issued a free pass to Jonathan Allen, but Emery struck out to end the frame.

Frasso finished things off for his second save of the year, striking out four over 1 2/3 innings, with pinch-hitter RJ Cordeiro whiffing to end the game.

Riley Ornido suffered his third loss of the year for the Dons, struggling with his command but still managing to labor through six innings. He and reliever Grant Young, who pitched the final three, managed to hold Loyola Marymount (19-10, 8-2) to just 2-for-11 hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Lions’ first run came on a bases-loaded walk by Brandon Shearer in the top of the third after No. 9 hitter Dylan Hirsch, a thorn in USF’s side all day (going 3-for-3), started the rally with a single up the middle. Nick Sogard, cousin of MLB infielder Eric Sogard, followed with a single of his own, and a walk to catcher Cooper Uhl loaded the bases before the free pass to Shearer — one of four Ornido issued on the day — would give the visitors first blood.

“He’s got great stuff, and if he just gets that fastball in the strike zone the way the split’s working right now, he’d be successful,” Giarratano said of Ornido. “When a guy’s having trouble throwing the fastball where he wants to and he only gives up one run in six innings, that’s impressive.”

The junior hurler responded by getting Trevin Esquerra to pop out and striking out Tommy Delgado. The fourth- and fifth-place hitters for the Lions combined to go 0-for-9 on the day, also wasting a bases-loaded chance in Ornido’s sixth and final inning, with Esquerra striking out and Delgado grounding out on Ornido’s 115th and final pitch.

In all, the St. Francis alum walked four and scattered seven hits — all singles — and struck out eight.

“You’ve just got to battle on every pitch,” he said of facing the top team in the conference without his best command.

Unfortunately for Ornido, Paiva was untouchable until the seventh, and in that frame, Fernandezees got the key double play. The Lions had stretched their lead to 2-0 in the top of that inning when Uhl cranked his first career home run, a no-doubter to left.

Things did get interesting for both teams in the ninth inning, with USF shortstop Jack Winkler making a sparkling play to keep the deficit at one. With men on first and second, Alex Lambeau hit a grounder off the glove of sprawling third baseman Riki Urata, but it caromed right to Winkler, who threw home to get Shearer at the plate.

The Dons’ Australian catcher Chase Hodkinson led off the bottom of the ninth with a sharp single, but with an 0-2 count to Greim, Giarratano made the unconventional decision to call for a pinch-hitter in the middle of the at-bat. Jason Kreske tried a bunt, even with two strikes, but Shearer charged in from third, grabbed it and threw to second to get pinch-runner Kyle Knell.

“We left the lefty in there with the four-hole open,” Giarratano said. “We were gonna try to get a ball on the pull side and go first-to-third, and he just wasn’t aggressive enough. We have a lot of faith in Jason Kreske. He made a good bunt, but we didn’t read the ball well enough at first base.”

Successive strikeouts by Westerman and Cordeiro would end the game.

“We just didn’t execute at the end of the game,” Giarratano concluded.

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