Persistent hitting from Gonzaga’s lineup backed a stellar relief outing from Owen Wild and the Bulldogs stayed alive in the NCAA Tournament, rallying out of an early five-run hole and powering past Wright State late for an 11-9 victory in a regional elimination game Saturday in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“We didn’t get off to a great start, made some mistakes, but I was happy with the way they battled and stayed with it,” Zags coach Mark Machtolf said. “Owen came in and gave us a chance to fight back into it, and that was the key to the game.”
Wild pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen after taking over for starter William Kempner in the third. Kempner entered the day having surrendered just three earned runs in seven starts this season, but he gave up nine in 2 2/3 innings against the Raiders.
Wright State managed three hits and six walks against Wild, who struck out seven in his 118-pitch effort.
“In a perfect world, we’d be able to start him tomorrow,” Machtolf said of Wild (9-1), who has made eight starts and eight relief appearances this year. “But we were down three or four, so you have to get him in there at that point and try to slug your way back. It wasn’t the initial plan we drew up, but it was a pretty easy decision to get him in there.
“I had total confidence in him to finish that game.”
Gonzaga’s offense piled up seven runs on six hits and five walks between the fifth and seventh innings to erase a 9-4 deficit and go ahead by two runs. The lead held, as Wild stranded four Raiders runners in the final two innings.
“After the eighth, I was starting to lose it a little bit,” Wild said, “and my pitching coach came up and asked me, ‘How you feeling?’ ”
Wild responded, “I’m running on fumes. … Trusting me in that spot, it feels good.”
Second-seeded Gonzaga (37-18) advances to another elimination contest at 10 a.m. Sunday against Columbia, which tamed the Bulldogs’ bats for an 8-2 win Friday.
Against fourth-seeded Wright State (30-27), the Zags bounced back at the plate, recording 12 hits and nine walks.
Seven players had at least one hit and one run apiece. Leading the charge were second baseman Savier Pinales (3 for 5, three RBIs), catcher Tyler Rando (2 for 6, two RBIs), outfielder Enzo Apodaca (2 for 5, three runs) and designated hitter Ezra Samperi (2 for 3, two RBIs).
“We all put together great at-bats,” Apodaca said. “We did a great job coming in as an offense, picking each other up when people were down, putting it together, getting on base and doing what we do best.
“Our bats were hot.”
The Zags loaded the bases on walks with two outs in the momentum-shifting fifth. Shortstop Connor Coballes worked a bases-loaded walk and Samperi followed with an RBI single to kick-start the comeback. Gonzaga took the lead for good in the seventh on Pinales’ two-run double. Cade McGee added a two-out RBI single to cap the scoring.
The Raiders scored three runs in the first inning on an RBI single from Gehrig Anglin and a two-run sacrifice fly from slugging DH Zane Harris – Pinales tripped over a teammate after making the catch.
Rando’s two-run double in the top half of the third put Gonzaga on top 4-3, but Harris hit a two-out, two-run home run to right field in the bottom half of the inning. Three batters later, Andrew Patrick added a three-run shot to left, sending Kempner to the dugout and creating a five-run Raiders advantage.
Kempner, a right-handed sophomore MLB draft prospect, allowed five hits and walked four batters, striking out three on 82 pitches.
Wright State finished with eight hits and 10 walks but stranded eight runners. Starter Sebastian Gongora worked 4 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on three hits and eight walks, and striking out three.
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