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Gonzaga’s Bolinger swings hot bat

Fri., March 30, 2012

Gonzaga baseball coach Mark Machtolf praised the starting pitching of Pepperdine, the team his Bulldogs face in the first of a three-game series tonight at 6 at the Patterson Baseball Complex to begin West Coast Conference play.

“Their Friday and Saturday guys are both really quality guys,” Machtolf said, referring to right-handed sophomores Scott Frazier and Corey Miller. “That’s always kind of a trademark is they pitch and they play really, really good defense. They’ll be a big-time challenge for us.”

Lately, Gonzaga (16-6) has presented a pretty stiff challenge of its own – the bat of senior outfielder Royce Bolinger, the hottest hitter in the WCC.

Bolinger homered in back-to-back at-bats against Hawaii on Sunday and went 9 for 17 with three homers and seven RBIs during the four-game series, which the Bulldogs swept at home. The weekend performance earned Bolinger his first WCC’s Player of the Week award.

He’s riding a nine-game hitting streak, the longest of his career, and leads Gonzaga with five home runs this season and 19 RBIs. Bolinger’s .366 average is second on the team behind sophomore Marco Gonzales’ .417.

None of it has come as a surprise to Machtolf. Bolinger batted .283 last season with three home runs, but he hit seven as a sophomore and has upped his batting average each year he’s been at Gonzaga.

“He had a good year last year ,” Machtolf said. “He just kind of tailed off at the end. He’s just kind of gotten better every year. It just takes time for hitters, especially young power hitters.

“He’s just really repeating his swing very well, and I think his confidence is at a very high level. That comes with maturity, too.”

Machtolf said he was pleased with Gonzaga’s growth during their nonconference schedule, encouraged by the way his team hit the ball against Hawaii after scoring just 21 runs in the eight games prior to that series.

“I feel like our guys have gotten better and accomplished what we need to get done in the first month and a half,” Machtolf said.

Gonzaga finished one game shy of the WCC title last season, and was picked to finish second this year.

Left-handed senior Tyler Olson will start today’s game on the mound. Senior righty Andy Hunter will pitch Saturday. Sunday’s starter is yet to be announced.

Around the area

Washington State (12-10, 2-4 Pac-12) finally comes home again, hosting USC (14-8, 2-4) in a three-game series beginning today at Bailey-Brayton Field. It’ll be the Cougars first home game since a March 4 win over Northern Colorado. WSU hasn’t won a series since then, but did take three wins from top-10 teams on the road during that span: 9-8 over No. 8 Cal State Fullerton on March 13, 6-0 over No. 6 Arizona on March 16, and 10-4 over No. 6 UCLA on March 26. USC is the first Pac-12 team WSU will face this season that isn’t ranked in the top 10. Four nonconference games – one at Gonzaga then three at home against Seattle University – await the Cougars next week. … The Cougars are 6-1 at home. … Whitworth begins a three-game series against George Fox with a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Merkel Field. At 7-2 in conference play, the Pirates are tied for first place in the Northwest Conference with Pacific of Oregon.

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