EUGENE – Gonzaga University’s Alek Jacob made perennial college baseball power LSU look a lot less formidable Friday night at the NCAA’s Eugene regional.
The West Coast Conference’s Pitcher of the Year threw a complete-game shutout against the vaunted Tigers at Oregon’s PK Park, earning a 3-0 victory for the Bulldogs in the teams’ NCAA Tournament opener.
“We just couldn’t solve him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Gonzaga (34-17) will face regional host Oregon – the NCAA’s 13th-ranked team and a 13-10 victor over Central Connecticut State on Friday – at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Jacob (9-1) made beating LSU – which boasts six national championships, 18 College World Series appearances and entered Friday’s contest with a 99-24 record in NCAA regional games – look relatively easy.
The junior right-hander struck out nine batters, walked just one and allowed only four hits – none after the fifth inning.
“To be able to do that for my team, to be able to go the whole distance and save our bullpen (for the rest of the regional), I was glad to do that,” Jacob said.
Mainieri was especially impressed that Jacob could be so dominant against his team despite having a fastball that topped out in the mid- to high 80s.
“He’s done this in every game he’s pitched this year,” the LSU coach said. “He’s not a kid with a great arm, a pro prospect, but he found a way to get the job done.”
Still, Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf balked at the idea that Jacob, in Mainieri’s words, lacked “overpowering stuff.”
“Doesn’t have overpowering stuff?” Machtolf asked. “He pitched a four-hit shutout.”
Even if he isn’t blowing hitters away, Jacob finds other ways to make them uneasy.
“I just challenge them and make them hit my stuff,” he said.
“I mess with their timing, keep them off balance. If they’re uncomfortable up there, that’s a big advantage for me.”
It was smooth sailing for Jacob most of the way, but things did get a bit stormy in the fourth.
Jacob yielded a leadoff triple to LSU’s Dylan Crews to start off the inning. After inducing a groundout and a strikeout, Jacob issued his lone walk.
With runners at the corners, Jacob threw what appeared to be a wild pitch, and Crews appeared to score from third. In what turned out to be a lucky break for the Bulldogs, however, the home-plate umpire ruled that Tigers batter Will Safford had been hit by the pitch, nullifying Crews’ run.
Still, that loaded the bases.
LSU’s next batter, Giovanni DiGiacomo, crushed a fly ball to deep center that easily could have cleared the bases. Gonzaga center fielder Guthrie Morrison, however, made a running, over-the-shoulder grab on the warning track, ending the inning – and nullifying the Tigers’ greatest scoring threat.
Morrison was one of four Bulldogs players who finished with two hits. The others were senior shortstop Ernie Yake, junior third baseman Brett Harris and freshman right fielder Grayson Sterling.
Morrison put Gonzaga on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the second. The senior’s RBI single to right field brought home Sterling, who had led off with a triple off the wall in left-center.
Yake made the score 2-0 later in the inning, swatting a double that landed just inside the right-field foul line to bring home Morrison.
The score remained 2-0 until the sixth, when Harris slammed what looked to be a sure double toward the left-field corner, scoring Jack Machtolf from second base. LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas threw Harris out at second in what turned out to be the game’s most controversial call.
Though coach Machtolf challenged the ruling on the field, the call stood after a lengthy review.
Landon Marceaux took the loss for LSU. The junior right-hander surrendered three runs, all earned, in 5⅔ innings.
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