STOCKTON, Calif. – Top-seeded No. 22 Gonzaga will take the first step toward securing a guaranteed berth to the NCAA Tournament at 3 p.m. Thursday when it faces fourth-seeded Saint Mary’s in the first game of the West Coast Conference baseball championships.
The winner of Thursday’s matchup advances to Friday’s semifinals against the winner of the 7 p.m. game between No. 2 seed Loyola Marymount and No. 3 seed BYU. The losers of Thursday’s game will also play on Friday, with the winner of that game playing again at 7:30 p.m.
Winning the conference tournament is by no means the only path to the NCAA Tournament for the Zags (31-17, 20-7 WCC). Last year GU received an at-large bid to the tournament based on the strength of its season, and the Zags could build a strong case again in 2017 after co-winning their league.
Beating Saint Mary’s will be no easy task for the Bulldogs. The Gaels (37-18, 18-9) have 22 comeback victories this season. Other obstacles on the path to a championship includes a BYU lineup that ranks fifth nationally with a .325 batting average and Loyola Marymount ace Cory Abbott, who set a WCC record this season with a 0.40 ERA and was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
Saint Mary’s won the regular-season series against GU, 2-1 in Spokane. In the first game of that series, the Gaels became the first WCC team to beat first-team All-WCC pitcher Eli Morgan, scoring seven runs on the junior, who struck out 12.
The Zags have been No. 1 seeds once, in 2013, during the inaugural WCC Championship tournament. They have won four regular-season titles (2009, 2013, 2016, 2017), all under coach Mark Machtolf, who was named WCC Coach of the Year for the third time on Tuesday.
Gonzaga heads into the tournament with a lot of momentum. The Zags have won five of their last seven games, winning series against their two co-champs, BYU and LMU.
GU’s batters are hitting .323 in the last 2 1/2 weeks and have scored 5.7 runs per game during that stretch. The pitchers have a 3.48 ERA over the last seven games, all of which came against teams averaging at least six runs per game.
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