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Zags headed to tourney

Sun., May 24, 2009, midnight

Wiegand blasts GU to NCAAs

Ryan Wiegand can’t deny it: There’s more satisfaction in a 425-foot RBI than one that travels barely 100 feet.

Especially when there’s a trip to the NCAA tournament attached.

In the most spectacular display of power hitting in Gonzaga history – at least given the stage – the senior first baseman blasted three home runs Saturday, including a grand slam and perhaps the longest shot hit out of Patterson Baseball Complex, in a 14-3 blitz of Loyola Marymount that gave the Bulldogs a two-game sweep in the best-of-3 West Coast Conference championship series.

The reward: a no-nerves viewing of Monday’s 9:30 a.m. NCAA selection show, as the Zags own the WCC’s automatic bid – Gonzaga’s first trip to the Diamond Dance since 1981.

“This makes it worth all the work and those days when you’re out here practicing when there’s ice and snow on the field,” Wiegand said.

And Wiegand himself made it worth the price of admission for a WCC championship-record crowd of 1,376.

For his teammates, too.

“He’s a tough act to follow,” said designated hitter Anthony Synegal, who watched the fireworks from the on-deck circle. “Hitting behind him you can get some pitches to hit and hit with guys in scoring position – but then there’s games when he’s going to knock them all in himself.”

On Friday night, Wiegand’s nubber that just reached the infield skin drove in the winning run in a ninth-inning Gonzaga comeback that may just have provided a momentum carryover to Game 2. If not, Wiegand provided it with an opposite-field three-run homer off LMU starter Alex Gillingham (4-4), whose day would be a short one – he was gone after giving up two more runs in the second on singles by Evan Wells and Tyson Van Winkle.

Wiegand wasn’t done, however.

After the Zags (35-16) broke open the game with a three-run fifth – Mark Castellitto’s two-run double being the big hit – Wiegand got his 240 pounds into a Ramiro Carreon fastball and pulled it not just over the scoreboard in right field but over the 50-foot high screen that’s supposed to keep home runs off Trent Avenue. Only San Diego’s Jordan Abruzzo has put one the street before, back in 2007 – a carry estimated at 425 feet.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball so far,” Wiegand said. “But I’ve never hit two in a game that I can remember, either.”

He still hasn’t, technically – because in the eighth with the bases loaded against Ernie Cho, Wiegand sent a line-drive missile into the right-field screen, tying Gonzaga’s single-season record for grand slams with three. He tried to make it four dingers on the day in the ninth (Gonzaga was the visiting team in this one), but struck out with a couple of mighty cuts.

“As good a big-game performance I’ve ever been a part of,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf called it.

But LMU coach Jason Gill liked another one.

“Three runs in college baseball isn’t that many,” he said of that first-inning lead the Lions (30-29) spotted GU. “But what happened was Steven Ames pitched the lights out.”

Indeed, lost in the power surge was Gonzaga’s staring pitcher turning Loyola into the Lions unplugged. Ames (8-1) gave up just three hits through seven innings and had a shutout until a couple of outfield errors opened the door for three LMU runs in the ninth. Like the rest of the Gonzaga pitching staff both this weekend and last, he particularly bottled up the Lions’ Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Ryan Wheeler and Angelo Songco, two of the WCC’s best power bats. Songco (15 home runs) was 2 of 18 against the Zags, Wheeler 5 of 19. Neither had an RBI.

“We threw Wheeler a lot of fastballs,” Ames said. “With Songco, you try to go inside and tie him up and not let him get his arms extended, and throw some off-speed. You have to locate – you miss up and they can make you hurt.”

“That was the key to both series.” Machtolf said.

It’s the Zags’ first WCC tournament title after misses in 2001 and 2007, on the heels of their first regular-season crown. They’ll be making their eighth NCAA appearance.



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