USF Dons baseball strikes early in win over Gaels

Dons take series against St. Mary’s with an early rally and clutch relief

BENEDETTI DIAMOND — The first six batters for the University of San Francisco baseball team all reached base on Saturday afternoon, sending St. Mary’s starter Tyler Thornton to an early exit and paving the way for a 4-2 win, clinching the weekend series even as the hosts failed to add on in later innings.

Those three runs in the first were enough, and an insurance run in the sixth helped provide some breathing room for Alex Pham, who pitched the final 3 2/3 innings for the save after Scott Parker allowed just one run over the first 5 1/3. A week after striking out a career-high nine in a win over Loyola Marymount, Parker fanned just three Gaels, but limited the opposition to just five hits and a walk. He didn’t allow a hit until Eddie Haus’ two-out RBI double cut the lead to 3-1 in the third, and though he did have to work out of the stretch in each of his remaining innings, the only one with serious trouble was the fifth, where he got Joe Vranesh to ground out after singles by Conor Thane and Haus.

Head coach Nino Giarratano lifted Parker after Gio Diaz’s one-out single in the top of the sixth, and Pham got out of the inning with ease. San Francisco (20-14, 9-5 West Coast Conference) quickly added on an insurance run, loading the bases on a Nick Yovetich single and walks to Brandon Greim and Riki Urata. Even after Gaels reliever Kevin Milam had thrown seven straight balls, Tyler Villaroman came to the plate with an aggressive approach and popped out on the very first pitch he saw. Jack Winkler made sure the Dons wouldn’t come away empty-handed, scoring Yovetich on a deep sac fly to left-center.

Though Villaroman didn’t come through in the sixth, he started the Dons’ initial rally when he was hit by Thornton’s first offering of the day, then stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. Winkler walked, and Riley Helland’s single scored Villaroman. Another HBP, this time to Jonathan Allen, loaded the bases for Robert Emery, who delivered a two-run single to center. Jacob Munoz’s bunt single loaded the bases once more and signaled the end of the day for Thornton.

St. Mary’s (20-14, 6-5) then handed the reins to Milam, a Brentwood native who not only pitches but also plays shortstop, and he got out of the inning without further harm by striking out Yovetich, Greim and Urata. He was able to keep the Dons off the board again until the sixth, though Villaroman did lead off the second with a single and another stolen base. USF also got a pair of singles in the third, this time from Emery and Yovetich, but the hits yielded no results.

Emery, Munoz and Yovetich each had two hits on the day, with Yovetich raising his average to .222. Considering his defensive prowess, a few more hits could make him an everyday fixture in the lineup.

The eight hits and four runs the Dons put together weren’t a particularly spectacular outing, but with Parker holding his own and Pham escaping the eighth inning, it was more than enough. The eighth was the one time the Gaels really made noise against Pham, with Vranesh doubling with one out and coming home on Milam’s RBI single. Diaz singled to right to advance Milam to third, and after an Austin Chauvin strikeout, Daniel Mendez walked to load the bases on a couple of close pitches, with the third ball drawing the ire of the USF dugout. That started an entertaining battle between Pham and pinch-hitter Bryce Willits, which lasted nine pitches and finally culminated with a sharp liner to Helland at first.

“I just had to keep making pitches, that’s all,” Pham said.

He took care of the ninth in order, striking out Haus looking to ensure a series victory for the Dons before having to face reigning WCC Pitcher of the Week Carlos Lomeli (5-2, 2.95 ERA). With Pham rolling, closer Joey Steele got Saturday off, meaning that both he and Julian Washburn will be ready to go. Giarratano has not officially named a starter for Sunday’s game, but Grant Nechak is the likely candidate.

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By Al Saracevic