Steady pitching lifted Gonzaga throughout the regular season, but inconsistency on the mound led to the Bulldogs’ downfall at the NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Zags surrendered five runs in the second inning and gave up eight in the fourth in a season-ending 15-6 loss to Columbia on Sunday at English Field in a regional elimination game.
“It certainly wasn’t our day. We just couldn’t play clean enough baseball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said. “I think we gave them 13 free passes and didn’t hit enough on the third day of the tournament.”
Eleven Lion batters reached base consecutively – on three doubles, two singles, two walks and four plunked batters – in the decisive fourth inning. No. 2 seed Gonzaga (37-19) used three pitchers in the frame, yet each of them struggled with command as third-seeded Columbia (32-17) batted around its order and fashioned an insurmountable 13-3 advantage.
The Lions plated all five of their second-inning runs with two outs, knocking Gonzaga starter Trystan Vrieling (4-4) out of the game with back-to-back, two-RBI singles to erase a 3-0 deficit and take the lead for good. The Bulldogs logged three hits in the first inning but managed two over the next five innings.
The result set up a rematch between the Lions and Virginia Tech in the regional title game. The Hokies clubbed Columbia 24-4 on Saturday.
Gonzaga was looking to avenge an 8-2 loss to the Lions in the teams’ regional opener Friday. Instead, the Zags ran into the same issues they had encountered earlier this weekend: Their usually reliable pitchers – a top-20 staff nationally in several statistical categories – slipped and their offense didn’t have enough punch to climb back in.
Both teams recorded 10 hits in the rematch, but Columbia worked 10 walks against three bases on balls for Gonzaga, which stranded 10 runners and left the bases loaded in the seventh and ninth innings.
Freshman outfielder Enzo Apodaca and senior first baseman Shea Kramer led Gonzaga with two hits apiece and three total RBI. True freshman Sam Canton led off the Bulldog ninth with his first-career home run. Columbia shortstop Andy Blake went 2-for-4 with three RBI to pace a balanced lineup, and outfielder Joshua Solomon scored three runs and added a solo shot in the eighth.
Right-hander Billy Black entered out of the Lions’ bullpen in the fourth inning and contained the Zag bats over 5⅓ innings and 107 pitches, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks, and striking out seven.
“He executed well, threw good pitches,” Kramer said. “I don’t think we produced well enough and grinded out at-bats, the quality at-bats, that we needed to.”
Bulldog relievers Brody Jessee and Nico Zeglin combined to limit the damage across the final 4⅔ frames, conceding two runs on two hits. Gonzaga had rallied back from down five runs in the last four innings of an 11-9 victory over Wright State a day before, but a 10-run comeback wasn’t in the cards Sunday and the Bulldogs were eliminated in the regional round for the 12th time in as many NCAA Tournament appearances.