From staff reports
BLACKSBURG, Virginia – Hits and runs were hard to come by for the first five innings of Friday’s NCAA baseball regional opener between Gonzaga and Columbia.
Eventually, the Lions’ potent offense found its groove, but the Zags never settled into a rhythm at the plate.
Third-seeded Columbia totaled 10 hits and seven runs across the final four innings at English Field to breeze past No. 2 seed Gonzaga 8-2 and send the Bulldogs (36-18) to a loser-out game in the four-team, double-elimination tournament on the campus of Virginia Tech.
“It was certainly not our day,” Zags coach Mark Machtolf said. “Hats off to them. They outplayed us and certainly deserved to win that game.”
The Lions (31-16) of the Ivy League were held back for five innings by Gonzaga right-hander Gabriel Hughes (8-3) — who was named to Collegiate Baseball’s All-American first team on Thursday and widely projected to be selected early in the MLB draft – crumbled in the sixth, surrendering four consecutive hits to lead off the inning.
“He was starting to cruise,” Machtolf said of Hughes. “I gotta give credit to Columbia. They did a good job executing their plan. When they were ahead in the count, they got their barrel where it needed to be. They were aggressive and battled with two strikes. I don’t know if Gabe had his best stuff, but he was good for a while.”
Hughes gave up season highs in hits (nine) and earned runs (six) over six innings and struck out seven.
Columbia’s Weston Eberly had an RBI single to start the scoring in the game-changing, five-run sixth.
Hayden Schott followed with a two-run shot to right field and Joshua Solomon scored another run with a single to extend the Lions’ advantage to five runs before Hughes escaped.
Tyler MacGregor and Eberly both went 3 for 5 while seven other batters recorded a hit apiece for Columbia, which entered the game boasting a .301 average. The Lions had four doubles and two home runs, outhitting Gonzaga 13-7 while their pitching staff outperformed the Zags’ vaunted arms.
Sean Higgins (6-3) earned the win after working six innings, permitting one earned run on six hits and one walk with six stikeouts. Columbia reliever Saajan May allowed one hit over the final three innings. The Bulldogs went down in order in four innings.
“He worked ahead really well and executed his pitches, and we didn’t really get our ‘A’ swings off in the right counts,” Gonzaga’s Cade McGee said of Higgins. “When he didn’t work ahead, we gave him easy outs on 2-0 or 3-1 (counts).”
The teams combined for just two runs on six hits across the first five innings.
The game’s first pitch was delivered just after 10 a.m., and the sixth inning began a few minutes after 11.
Spokane native Connor Coballes led Gonzaga, finishing 3 for 3 with a double, an RBI and the Zags’ only walk of the day. Catcher Tyler Rando belted a lead-off solo home run to center field in the sixth.
The Bulldogs will face elimination at 10 a.m. Saturday when they meet Wright State after the Raiders lost to Virginia Tech 15-9 on Friday.
“We gotta be efficient and battle, and they will,” Machtolf said. “They have done it all year.
“I don’t worry about their mental state. We just have to take a couple of hours and regroup.”