BENEDETTI DIAMOND — Even a passerby walking along Golden Gate Avenue who only saw the final moments of USF’s 4-2 win over Pepperdine on Saturday would have been able to sense the heightened tension as closer Joey Steele let out a massive shout, striking out Cory Wills with the bases loaded to end the game.
Steele’s escape in the ninth capped off a game in which Dons head coach Nino Giarratano was ejected in the third inning, both teams aired their frustrations with a small strike zone and the hosts ultimately pushed across two runs in the seventh to win the game.
As chaotic and intense as things were, San Francisco (27-20, 14-9 West Coast Conference) did turn to a calming presence on the mound, with Julian Washburn improving to 8-0 as he relieved Scott Parker in the seventh before the Dons took the lead. Like Riley Ornido the day before, Parker bounced back from a rough outing last week, allowing two runs (one earned) over 6 1/3 innings on seven hits and one walk, while striking out six. Washburn came in after a single by catcher Joe Caparis and took care of the top of the lineup, getting Quincy McAfee to fly out and inducing a groundout from Brandt Belk to end the inning.
“Like coach said, I just go out there and calm the game down,” Washburn said. “You can’t control the umpires, and our coaches say to control what you can control.”
USF jumped on the Waves in the bottom of the seventh, getting a two-out single from Robert Emery and a Jacob Westerman walk. Jacob Munoz then snuck a grounder past the first base bag for a go-ahead double, spelling the end of the day for Pepperdine starter Easton Lucas. Reliever Michael Mahony had a miserable outing, throwing eight consecutive balls as he walked Kyle Knell and Riki Urata for an insurance run.
Washburn then returned to the mound as calm as ever, even with a one-out walk by Wills and a Charlie Welch single. He settled down by getting Wyatt Young to ground into a force out and induced a harmless flyout from Aharon Modlin to end the threat.
Pepperdine (19-20, 10-10) threatened once more in the ninth with a Mike Malinchak leadoff single, but a diving stop by second baseman Kyle Knell got the first out, and Washburn struck out McAfee looking after digging himself into a 3-1 hole. Belk then singled through the right side, prompting pitching coach Matt Hiserman to call for Steele, who got in a 3-0 hole against Matt Kanfer and battled back, with Kanfer fouling off four in a row before walking on a pitch that home plate umpire John Bostwick could have easily called strike three to end the game. Instead, Steele had to get Wills, who he fanned.
Steele had to wait for his usual congratulations from Giarratano, who had been watching from his office after being ejected for arguing a call in the third. Knell had walked with one out and was ruled to have been tagged by Young at second on what turned out to be an inning-ending double play off the bat of Urata.
“I went out to ask if he called him out on the tag or out on the baseline, and he said out on the tag,” Giarratano said. “He wasn’t close to tagging him from our viewpoint and he said, ‘Don’t insult me, I know he tagged him.’ I said he missed him by this much and he said to put my hands down or I’d be ejected. I was walking away and he tossed me. It was rough.”
The Dons trailed 1-0 at that point, as Parker had managed to emerge from a bases-loaded jam in the second with the only damage coming on a Malinchak sac fly, and USF took the lead briefly in the fourth as Jonathan Allen pounded his 16th homer of the year, a two-run shot to right over the high wall for his fourth homer in the last two weeks.
“I’m seeing the ball a lot better,” Allen said of his recent play that’s helped engineer a playoff push. “I want to get back to Banner Island [Ballpark, for the WCC Tournament]; that’s the reason why I came back. I want to do something special with this team.”
That 2-1 advantage would quickly evaporate as a Parker throwing error on a sac bunt attempt led to a Belk RBI groundout, but the southpaw limited the damage and the Waves wouldn’t score again.