Gonzaga University put itself in position Thursday night to continue a positive West Coast Conference baseball trend.
Or start an even better one, perhaps.
The Bulldogs, who won two out of three games on the road in their first two weekend series against WCC opponents, started another one off in impressive fashion at home by putting a 14-2 beatdown on 21st-ranked and league-leading San Diego.
A crowd of just more than 500 turned out at Washington Trust Field to watch the Zags (22-9, 5-2) rough up USD ace Kyle Blair for six third-inning runs and hand the Toreros (22-12, 6-1) their first league loss.
The impressive win pulled GU to within a game of San Diego in the WCC standings and kept alive the possibility of a series sweep – provided the Zags can find a way past the Toreros in tonight’s second game that starts at 6:30 and Saturday’s series finale that kicks off at 11 a.m.
“This is a huge win for us,” said junior outfielder Drew Heid, who collected four of GU’s 15 hits and also drove in two runs “We were really charged up and ready to go, especially being back here on our home field.
“It’d be nice to take two of three against these guys, too, but we’d rather take all three.”
GU starter Matt Fields (5-1) survived a shaky start and picked up the win by striking out seven and scattering eight hits in 72/3 innings. The senior right-hander, after walking the game’s first batter on four pitches and allowing a first-inning run, humbled a San Diego lineup that erupted for 53 runs in a three-game sweep of Santa Clara last weekend.
“I thought he was just outstanding tonight,” Toreros coach Rich Hill said of Fields. “He really just commanded that outer third of the zone, and was able to throw his slider – any time and any count – for a strike.”
Fields laughed off the four-pitch walk he issued to start the game.
“You never want to start a game with four balls,” he said. “And I was missing pretty bad, too. But after that, I took a deep breath and decided to try to get out of the inning with minimal damage.”
The Zags’ offense backed him by stinging Blair (3-2), a sophomore right-hander and the league leader in strikeouts, with four two-out hits in the sixth. The biggest came off the bat of freshman shortstop Ernesto Ortiz, whose double off the right-field wall plated the final two runs of the inning.
Mark Castelitto, Grant Kveder and Jason Chatwood also produced run-scoring singles in GU’s big inning.
Things got even worse for Blair – physically, at least – in the bottom of the fourth when he served up a bases-empty single to GU’s Tyson Van Winkle and immediately dropped to a knee clutching his right shoulder. Blair left the game with his right arm dangling limp to his side, and Hill later said the injury appeared to be a bicep strain.
The Zags pushed across three more two-out runs in the sixth on a wild pitch, a single to right by Anthony Synegal and a bases-loaded walk, and then capped the scoring with four runs in the eighth.
GU coach Mark Machtolf was particularly impressed with the way his team swung the bats in the third inning, taking advantage of a couple of USD fielding gaffes to score six unearned runs.
“Especially against a quality guy like Blair,” he said. “We had a lot of two-out hits the other way, and you’re normally going to be in good shape when you battle like that.
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