FULLERTON, Calif. – There was disappointment over the end of a season and sorrow over failing to be one of the last two teams standing in the Fullerton Regional. Yet Gonzaga’s baseball squad also knows that Sunday’s 9-7 loss to Utah doesn’t have to produce a crestfallen view of the 2009 season.
These Bulldogs, picked to finish fourth in the West Coast Conference, exceeded a lot of expectations by reaching an NCAA baseball regional for the first time since 1981. Not long after the final out was recorded, the accomplishments of a highly successful season were already being merged with Sunday’s disappointing conclusion to the 36-18 campaign.
“If you think about it, every team will end their season with a loss except for one,” said senior second baseman Evan Wells, who went 3 for 4 with two RBIs against Utah. “We had a good year. We’re obviously disappointed because we wanted to see if we could keep playing for three or four weeks. It just didn’t work out.”
Gonzaga won its most games since the 1990 team posted 37 victories, but the Bulldogs would’ve liked a longer stay on the regional stage. Winning just once in three games wasn’t what the players envisioned.
“It’s always disappointing,” said junior catcher Tyson Van Winkle, who went 2 of 5 with two RBIs on Sunday. “I know this isn’t the way you want to go out but looking over the whole season, I’m just proud of the team. We came a long way.
“We didn’t play well enough to win. Utah played well. We just didn’t pull it out today.”
Fourth-seeded Utah pushed across the go-ahead run in the fifth inning on C.J. Cron’s RBI double and eventually built a five-run cushion before holding off the third-seeded Bulldogs in front of 1,285 fans at Goodwin Field.
Gonzaga tallied twice in the eighth to narrow the Utes’ lead to two runs and threatened to tie the game in the ninth, but Mark Castellitto’s bid for a game-tying homer was caught on the warning track in right field.
Jason Chatwood’s grounder to third with two on and two out ended the game and put Utah into the championship round against top-seeded Cal State Fullerton.
Now Gonzaga’s task will be to return to the regional setting much faster than the 28 years that elapsed between its previous visit and this one. Bulldogs coach Mark Machtolf said reaching the postseason was just the first step.
“You bet,” Machtolf said. “That’s always the goal – to be a perennial regional team and to take the next step to get to the super regionals and then to Omaha (for the College World Series). I believe we can get that done at Gonzaga. It’s where my heart is and, yeah, this is a steppingstone.”
The Bulldogs will have to do some reloading. Five everyday players and WCC Pitcher of the Year Matt Fields will be moving on from a talented senior class that never endured a losing season.
“Special is the word that comes to mind,” Machtolf said of the senior class. “A group that pushed us over the top – we didn’t get where we wanted to but certainly we got further than we have been.
“They pushed us over the top with their toughness and their attitude and this program will be forever indebted to this group. It’s been (28) years since we competed in a regional and that’s something they will be able to take to their graves.”