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Gonzaga shows it belongs in WCC pecking order

Mark Machtolf knows there are too many quality baseball teams in the West Coast Conference for his Gonzaga team to concern itself over three games this early in league play.

But if the opener of this weekend’s series against No. 19 San Diego is any kind of indication of where the Bulldogs stand in the conference’s pecking order, they’re off to a good start.

Gonzaga took the first game of a three-game series Thursday in San Diego, winning 6-2 behind a complete-game outing from starting pitcher Tyler Olson.

The Toreros (23-8, 5-2 WCC) were picked to win the WCC in a preseason poll of the conference’s coaches, with Gonzaga right behind and last season’s champion, San Francisco, coming in third.

All of which means little right about now. But this weekend’s series certainly means something to Gonzaga, even if it won’t go particularly far in determining whether they can put last season’s near-miss behind them in search of this year’s WCC title.

“It can be,” said Machtolf, asked if this weekend could serve as a barometer of where Gonzaga stands in relation to the WCC’s other title contenders. “San Diego is picked to be right up there, no doubt, and they’ve been playing well, so it is a barometer a little bit. We’re going to have to play well, but San Diego’s right there with a number of other teams.”

Perhaps most encouraging about Thursday’s win was Gonzaga’s ability to continue its offensive roll. The Bulldogs scored 30 runs in a three-game series against Pepperdine last weekend, then racked up 21 hits in a 9-3 win over Washington State on Tuesday.

Thursday, they dinged San Diego starter Calvin Drummond for four runs on eight hits in 61/3 innings, the biggest blow a two-out, two-RBI single by catcher Maxx Garrett after a long at-bat in the fourth inning that gave Gonzaga a 3-1 lead.

Senior outfielder Royce Bolinger also extended his hitting streak to 14 with a fifth-inning home run, his eighth of the season. That’s already one better than the career-best seven he hit as a sophomore.

“We’ve got a few guys that aren’t feeling real great so there’s a lot of room for improvement (offensively),” Machtolf said. “It is encouraging to see that we’ve swung the bat much better.”

The teams will play again this afternoon and Saturday, then travel to Seattle for games Monday and Tuesday against Washington, which will mark a span of six games in eight days. Gonzaga beat Washington State 9-3 on Tuesday thanks to 21 hits.

“It does have an impact,” Machtolf said of going on the road after playing a midweek game. “The whole challenge is to get enough pitching to last through the midweek. That makes it difficult when you’re playing for a championship during the weekend, but most teams have that same problem.”

It wasn’t a problem Thursday.

Around the area: Washington State continues its three-game nonconference series against Seattle University today after taking a 2-1 win from the Redhawks in the bottom of the ninth Thursday, freshmen infielder Ian Sagdal driving in the winning run with a sacrifice fly. The Cougars (14-12, 3-5 Pac-12) won’t play another conference game until Utah comes to Bailey-Brayton Field for a three-game series beginning April 13. … WSU senior Derek Jones is one home run away from tying the school’s career record. He’s hit 39, seven this season, two last week when he was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the third time in his career. He was batting .407 this season before Thursday’s 1-for-3 performance at the plate. … Whitworth (14-10-1, 8-4) begins a three-game series against Lewis & Clark (3-12, 6-25) today. The Pirates are in fifth place in the Northwest Conference, though just two games back of first-place Pacific (Ore.). Tyler Pfeffer leads the Pirates with a .379 batting average, seven homers and 34 RBIs.

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