BENEDETTI DIAMOND — The San Francisco Dons never went away in Sunday’s rubber match with conference-leading Loyola Marymount despite an early six-run deficit, but the hosts weren’t able to come all the way back, ultimately falling 6-5.
Even though the Dons dropped two of three games in the series, there were plenty of encouraging signs in the finale, with Tyler Villaroman collecting three hits to cap off his massive weekend and Julian Washburn coming out of the bullpen to stop the bleeding and allow just three baserunners over 5 1/3 innings.
“There were a lot of things to be excited about as we held them to six and battled back to get our five,” said San Francisco head coach Nino Giarratano.
Unfortunately for the Dons, though, it was one of those games that was decided by the little things. Washburn came in with men on second and third and no outs in the third to reliever Grant Nechak, and the lone single he allowed was to the first batter he faced, Ethan Patrick, giving LMU a 5-0 lead. The Lions would tack on their sixth and final run before the end of the inning on Kenny Oyama’s sacrifice bunt.
“That’s the kind of stuff that happens in a game where you’re elated to make it close, but you’re disappointed because you’ve got to execute better than that if you want to win,” Giarratano said.
San Francisco (18-13, 7-5 WCC) immediately got three runs back in the bottom of the third, chasing starter Sean Paquet in the process with Villaroman’s two-run triple, but it was the inability to take the lead in the fourth that would loom large. The hosts would get two more runs in that inning as Robert Emery walked, Jacob Westerman doubled and Brandon Greim cut the lead to 6-4 on an infield hit. Catcher Chase Hodkinson would then cut the lead to a single run with his double down the right-field line.
Lefty reliever Matt Voelker would prevent further damage for Loyola Marymount (20-11, 9-3). He got Riki Urata to pop out and retired Villaroman on a comebacker, and after a Jack Winkler walk to load the bases, Riley Helland popped out to end the inning.
Though it seemed unfathomable at the time, it would be the last major threat for the Dons until the ninth. They did have two on and two out in the sixth inning after an Urata walk and Villaroman single, but CJ Fernandezees quickly got Winkler to ground into a force out. Fernandezees took care of the seventh and Nick Frasso struck out the side in the eighth
In the ninth, Villaroman grabbed his third hit of the day on an infield single with one out, and a Winkler single to right-center put men on the corners. Frasso bent but wouldn’t break, getting a grounder from Helland as first baseman Trevin Esquerra threw home to get Villaroman. Jonathan Allen represented the Dons’ final hope, and though he had three hits on the day, there would be no fourth knock, as he struck out to end the game.
Cleaning up the fifth inning for Voelker and taking care of the first two outs of the sixth for the Lions was winning pitcher Giuseppe Benedetti, who had no connection to the field’s namesake, but did have connections to the current USF roster as a high school teammate of ace Riley Ornido at St. Francis in Mountain View. Nechak took the loss for the Dons, allowing six runs on six hits in just two-plus innings. Four batters into the game, USF was in a 3-0 hole thanks to Esquerra’s two-run double and Delgado’s RBI single.