STOCKTON, Calif. – The task is clear for the Gonzaga baseball team.
The Zags are going to have to find their offense or they risk bowing out of the West Coast Conference tournament without a win for the second consecutive year.
Thursday’s pitchers’ duel between Gonzaga freshman Brandon Bailey and Loyola Marymount junior Colin Welmon saw the Lions take a 5-1 opening-round victory in front of 842 fans at Banner Island Ballpark.
The Zags square off against Santa Clara, a 5-2 loser to top-seeded Pepperdine, at noon today and hope to still be playing later in the 7:30 p.m. contest.
Pitchers dominated the first two innings as both Weldon and Bailey retired six of the first seven batters they faced.
Gonzaga took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth taking advantage of Bulldogs left fielder Nicholas Minteer’s leadoff single against Welmon, who got the complete game win (10-2) scattering six hits.
After a sacrifice bunt by Zags catcher Joey Harris pushed Minteer to second, Loyola third baseman Ted Boeke missed his first baseman trying to throw out Mitch Gunsolus and Gonzaga had two runners in scoring position.
Zags second baseman Caleb Lamb grounded out to short, but got the RBI for the early advantage.
But the Lions scored twice in the fourth with four hits off Bailey (6-7), who took the loss. Doubles by Tanner Donnells and Tommy Cheek each drove in a run to put the Lions up 2-1.
“It was a good pitching matchup,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said. “You have to give their guy credit, but I think (Bailey) gave us a chance to win. He pitched well and just had a bit of bad luck. They hit the ball in bunches. We hit the ball hard, but right at people – that’s baseball. You don’t win a lot of games with just six hits.”
The Lions posted a crooked number in the sixth with three runs on three hits highlighted by Loyola designated hitter Jimmy Jack’s two-run double that bounced over first base and into right field. Jack scored on Kevin Garcia’s grounder up the middle for the final run of the game.
“We really had some clutch at-bats,” Lions coach Jason Gill said. “We had a great bunt to get (Jack) up in the sixth to allow him to get that double. That was a momentum swing and a turning point in the game.”
Loyola’s Weldon kept the Bulldogs off balance in the late innings retiring 10 of 11 Bulldogs between a sixth-inning single by Zags centerfielder Sam Brown and a two-out double by Minteer in the ninth.
“I’ve seen (Welmon) have stretches of good pitching like this,” Gill said. “He has really been on top of it in his last six starts. His changeup is very effective when he gets his fastball going. He tells his team ‘It’s not happening while I’m on the mound.’”