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Gonzaga baseball earns No. 2 seed in NCAA Regional, will face LSU in Eugene on Friday

UPDATED: Mon., May 31, 2021

Gonzaga third baseman Brett Harris is tagged out at second base by San Diego infielder Thomas Luevano during a WCC baseball game Thursday at Coach Steve Hertz Field in Spokane.  (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga third baseman Brett Harris is tagged out at second base by San Diego infielder Thomas Luevano during a WCC baseball game Thursday at Coach Steve Hertz Field in Spokane. (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Denied the chance to host the party, the Gonzaga Bulldogs can still break some furniture at someone else’s house.

They even wound up with the next-closest thing to a home game in the NCAA Baseball Tournament – a short hop to the Eugene Regional.

Against maybe the most dangerous opponent they could draw under the circumstances.

The Zags (33-17) will be the No. 2 team – their best seed ever – and will face six-time national champion LSU (34-22) when play opens Friday at Oregon’s PK Park. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, with streaming on ESPN3.

The host Ducks (37-14), the top seed in the pod and 14th overall after finishing a game behind Pac-12 champ Arizona, start the day at 2 p.m. against Central Connecticut (28-13). The Blue Devils won the Northeast Conference tourney via the losers’ bracket, with wins on back-to-back days over Bryant.

The regional is a double-elimination event, with the winner advancing to one of 16 super regionals at the highest surviving seed out of Eugene or the Nashville regional hosted by Tennessee, the overall No. 3 seed. The eight super regional winners will make up the field for the 74th College World Series on Omaha beginning June 19.

Monday’s bracket announcement came the morning after Gonzaga learned it would not be one of the 16 regional hosts, after having been named among the 20 potential sites two weeks ago.

Whatever disappointment the Bulldogs felt didn’t seem to linger.

“I think it’ll be cool to go to Oregon and possibly gain some revenge on them,” said third baseman Brett Harris. “We have some unfinished business down there in Eugene. We have all the confidence we can go down there and win that region, and I expect us to have to play them sometime this coming weekend.”

The Zags had three games against the Ducks – one in Spokane, two in Eugene – wiped out when several positive COVID-19 tests put GU’s season on pause. Oregon won the lone game that was rescheduled, 10-3.

“But what we’re really concentrating on is LSU and trying to win the first game,” said coach Mark Machtolf, “and see where that takes us.”

The Bengals, one of nine SEC teams to earn spots in the bracket, are the regionals’ No. 3 seed – and their No. 28 slot in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index is the second highest among the field’s No. 3s, second only to Fairfield, which went 37-3 this season.

LSU won five NCAA titles under coach Skip Bertman between 1991 and 2000 and another in 2009 for Paul Mainieri, who last week announced his retirement at season’s end. The winningest active coach with 1,501 wins in stops at St. Thomas, Air Force and Notre Dame before LSU, Mainieri also fielded the 2017 NCAA runners-up.

His 2021 team finished fourth in the SEC West with a 13-17 record, bowing out of the SEC tournament after just one game, a 4-1 loss to Georgia. But the Bengals have a strong No. 1 starter in Landon Marceaux and are 12th in the nation in home runs behind sluggers Gavin Dugas and Dylan Crews.

“But right now it’s more about getting ourselves right and getting our guys dialed in,” said Machtolf, who’s piloting his fourth NCAA tournament team – the most recent in 2018. “I’m concerned about how we play as opposed to what we’re going to see.”

The Zags won the West Coast Conference title with a 10-0 wipeout of San Diego on Thursday, but two ensuing lopsided losses dropped their RPI to 27. They have their own ace in North Central grad Alek Jacob, but remain without No. 2 starter Gabriel Hughes – out since late April with a broken hand.

“You have a bad game, you come out the next day and it’s a brand new day, brand new game and just bounce back like a whole new team,” said Jacob. “That’s just something we’ve done all year – battle through adversity like that. I think this team is capable of doing that again this weekend.”

Gonzaga is 7-14 in seven previous NCAA regional appearances dating back to 1976. Jacob, pitcher Michael Spellacy, shortstop Ernie Yake and outfielder Jack Machtolf are the holdover members of the 2018 team that had a win over Canisius sandwiched between losses to UCLA.

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