Gonzaga ready to defend season title in four-team, double-elimination playoff
It’s been 18 days since the Gonzaga baseball team last faced a West Coast Conference opponent, the Bulldogs clinching the WCC regular-season championship on May 5 with a three-game sweep of last-place Santa Clara.
Now, three more wins over WCC teams will be required for Gonzaga to prolong its season.
The four-team WCC baseball championships begin today at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif., with Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed, facing No. 4 seed San Francisco at 3 p.m. The winner of the three-day tournament will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA regionals.
The Bulldogs will face either San Diego or Brigham Young on Friday, depending on which teams win or lose today. The tournament format is double-elimination, meaning the champion must win three games in three days.
And there are no patsies involved. In fact, each of the other three participants finished in a second-place tie in WCC play with identical records of 15-9.
“It’s the teams that are the hottest, really,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf. “We finished two weeks earlier than everybody, and the other teams continued to play really, really well. So it’s going to be quite a challenge.”
Gonzaga (32-19-1, 18-6) compiled a 6-3 record against USF, San Diego and BYU this season, beating each of them twice while losing to each of them once.
The Bulldogs’ first WCC series this season was against San Francisco in mid-March, when Gonzaga won a 14-inning contest in the first game, won 9-5 the next day and then lost, 9-3, to cap the weekend.
“I think all four teams are evenly matched,” Machtolf said. “Look at the conference. There’s a boatload of one-run games. It was that way with the conference and certainly that way with the top four.”
Gonzaga will pitch ace left-hander Marco Gonzales against the Dons today. Left-hander Tyler Olson should get the nod in Gonzaga’s Friday game, and Machtolf said Arturo Reyes could be a candidate to start a third game, depending on whether he pitches in relief before then.
The Bulldogs enter the tournament on a five-game losing streak after dropping two of three games to Appalachian State at home two weeks ago, then losing two games at No. 10 Oregon (4-1 and 4-3) and a 12-inning game at California (3-2).
Those last three games actually improved Gonzaga’s RPI from 93 to 87, which still likely won’t be good enough for the Bulldogs to earn an at-large bid to the postseason.
“We probably didn’t play as sharply as we wanted to,” Machtolf said. “But I think all those games prepare you to give you a chance to play well this weekend.”
Zags claim awards
Machtolf, Gonzales and Olson were all honored as part of the WCC’s end-of-year awards on Wednesday.
Machtolf was named Coach of the Year, Gonzales shared Co-Player of the Year with Kris Bryant of San Diego, and Olson was named Pitcher of the Year.
Outfielder Cory LeBrun was also named to the All-WCC first team.
Gonzales led Gonzaga with a .313 batting average this season while also compiling a 7-2 record and a 2.55 ERA as a pitcher. Olson holds a record of 9-3 with a 2.09 ERA. The Player of the Year award is Gonzales’ second. He is the first player in school history to win the award twice.
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