FULLERTON, Calif. – Gonzaga picked an outstanding time to match its biggest offensive inning of the season – the first inning of its first NCAA baseball regional appearance in 28 years.
The Bulldogs scored seven runs in the opening inning to set the tone for a prolific offensive splurge Friday while dispatching Georgia Southern 19-10 in the opening round of the double-elimination regional at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field.
Third-seeded Gonzaga (36-16) plays Cal State Fullerton tonight at 6. The top-seeded Titans routed Utah 18-2 in the late game.
The Bulldogs advanced primarily because of an offense that notched a season-high run total, a figure that also represents the most runs Gonzaga has scored in its 22-game NCAA tournament history.
“It was a strange game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said. “Usually, you think the first day of a tournament, it wouldn’t be quite that offensive, but we did a good job early against their guy and they did a great job of coming back and fighting. Maybe one of our best offensive performances of the year.”
No maybe about it considering the enormity of the stage. The Bulldogs had 18 hits and scored in every inning but the second.
But another significant factor in the victory was an impressive relief appearance from sophomore left-hander Reedy Berg. In a game that featured 29 runs and 33 hits, Berg (4-4) allowed just two runs and six hits over a season-high 61/3 third innings after replacing starter Matt Fields in the third inning.
“I have complete confidence in our offense to put up huge numbers and they did that today,” Berg said. “That makes it really easy as a pitcher. Just go out there and throw strikes and locate and the hitters will get themselves out.”
The Bulldogs jumped all over second-seeded Georgia Southern (42-16) in the top of the first inning, sending 12 batters to the plate during a 23-minute outburst.
The first five Gonzaga hitters all reached base against Georgia Southern right-hander Chris Mederos, who entered with an 11-1 record. Tyson Van Winkle delivered a single to center field to drive in Evan Wells (who was hit by pitches twice in the first inning) and Drew Heid with the first two runs.
The bases were loaded with one out when Grant Kveder hit a little tapper down the third-base line. Mederos raced over to field it and tossed the ball home for the force out, but catcher Griffin Benedict dropped the throw and Ryan Wiegand scored to make it 3-0.
The uprising continued with Ernesto Ortiz and Heid both delivering two-out, two-run singles to make it 7-0.
However, Georgia Southern scored twice in the second inning and six in the third to tie the score at 8.
Fields, who had allowed just three homers in 88 innings this season entering the contest, gave up four homers in the third inning. Left-handed hitters Griffin Benedict and Kyle Blackburn both hit solo homers to right field and right-handed hitters Eric Phillips and Ty Wright both hit two-run shots to left field.
Berg replaced Fields after Wright’s homer and held Georgia Southern scoreless over the next three innings.
Gonzaga inched back ahead in the top of the fourth on Anthony Synegal’s solo blast to left-center field off Colin Snow (4-3) and added another in the fifth on a throwing error by Georgia Southern shortstop Brian Pierce.
The game again became a blowout when Mark Castellitto hit his team-leading ninth homer of the season in the sixth inning and Wiegand added a three-run shot to right in the seventh inning. Wiegand’s blast gave the Bulldogs a 16-8 advantage.
This time, Gonzaga wasn’t giving back the lead.
“Everyone stuck together and just battled, which we’ve been taught all year,” Wiegand said.
Junior right-hander Steven Ames (8-1, 3.51 earned-run average) will pitch for Gonzaga tonight.