By Cyril Penn
Special to S.F. Examiner
The University of San Francisco Dons baseball team is making a habit of sweeping South Bay foes.
After completing a season sweep of Santa Clara on Sunday, the Dons returned home to knock off San Jose State, 6-3, on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon at Benedetti Diamond.
The victory was their second of the season against the Spartans (14-15) and came in eerily similar fashion to the March 5 matchup between the non-conference foes, when the Dons rallied past a five-run first-inning deficit to win, 12-6.
This time around, San Francisco (17-11, 6-3 WCC) allowed three first-inning runs as starting pitcher Daniel Slominski lasted less than an inning on the mound. With the senior right-handed pitcher battling back from an early season elbow injury, head coach Nino Giarratano decided to pull him early, suggesting that, “He really wasn’t himself from like the fourth or fifth pitch on.”
But for a team that has now notched a whopping 10 come-from-behind triumphs, a three-run deficit was nothing to fret over thanks to the steady hand of reliever Julian Washburn and some timely hitting.
Though the sophomore right hander was thrown into the mix with two outs in the top of the first and limited time to warm his arm, it mattered not.
“I’m used to it by now, when you’ve got to get hot quick,” Washburn said. “Unfortunately I had to go in pretty early in the game, but I was ready and I’ve had to do it a lot this year.”
Washburn would last 4 1/3 innings, striking out two and stranding four baserunners. He lasted just long enough to pick up some run support and improve to 6-0 on the mound, despite appearing in just twelve outings.
“I just think (Washburn) pitches key innings and the team has come back and one a lot of games,” Giarratano said. “Obviously hat’s off to him for being able to put up zeros. But more importantly, the team is able to score runs every time he comes in and pitches.”
With the Dons hitless entering the bottom of the fourth and heavier rain beginning to fall, senior Riley Helland led things off with a leadoff single to shallow right to extend his hitting streak to seven games. One at-bat later, slugging lefty senior Jonathan Allen launched a rope off the right field wall and legged out a sliding triple to plate Helland and get San Francisco on the board.
With junior Robert Emery up the Spartans infield played in, anticipating a squeeze bunt with only one out, but Emery belted a deep shot that caromed off the bottom of the center field wall to drive in Allen.
After a dribbling single up the middle from junior Jacob Munoz put runners on the corners, freshman Brandon Greim knocked a double down the left line to tie the game at 3-3 and give the Dons their fourth consecutive hit.
Sophomore Nick Yovetich walked in the next at-bat, and was followed by an RBI line-drive single to left by junior Ricki Urata that gave San Francisco a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s tough when you give up runs early, but that didn’t affect us,” said Greim. “We went out, stuck to our plan, executed, and that’s how we got our win today.”
Greim made his presence felt yet again with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, when he laced a hanging curveball to deep right center for his second double of the game. Looking to build on their slim lead, Giarratano called upon pinch hitter Jacob Westerman, who promptly squared up a fastball from Zach Wallace and drove it over the fence in left center for a two-out, two-run home run.
Greim finished the day 3-for-4 from the plate, starting at second base for the first time in his young career, lifting his batting average from .174 to a respectable .259.
As Giarratano continues to shuffle an infield that has been en flux due to fielding issues, Greim gave him something to think about.
“We’ve been trying to find guys that can play second and third base consistently for us, so, we’ve been shuffling a lot of guys in there,” Giarratano said. “Greim was our DH and even our starting third baseman at the beginning of the year. He struggled with the glove and didn’t get as many opportunities.
“But he can really hit, as you saw today. He’s going to be a great player for us. It’s just a matter of time before he figures it out on defense.”
Even with rain returning for the top of the ninth, closer Joey Steele notched his West Coast Conference leading seventh save with a quick 1-2-3 inning.
With the win, the Dons moves to 11-1 at Benedetti Diamond, but are still 6-10 away from home.
When asked about the discrepancy, Giarratano suggested this team was consciously created to win at their home ballpark.
“I think we’re just comfortable here. We like the surface. We play better defense at home,” he said. “Our guys have made better pitches and we have really good left-handed hitters that take advantage of that short porch in right field and that’s kind of how the team has been built.”
This weekend, San Francisco will host SoCal rival Loyola Marymount. The Dons have lost four straight season series against the Lions, getting swept last year in Los Angeles.
With the Dons currently a game behind first-place LMU in the WCC standings, their upcoming series could prove pivotal come playoff time.
“It’s for the boys, you know?” Greim chuckled. “This is home and we’ve got to protect it.”