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Sports >  Gonzaga athletics

Gonzaga baseball earns No. 2 seed at Blacksburg Regional hosted by Virginia Tech for NCAA Tournament

May 30, 2022 Updated Mon., May 30, 2022 at 6:14 p.m.

Gonzaga Bulldogs' Savier Pinales (2) and outfielder Enzo Apodaca (3) celebrate during the WCC Baseball Championships at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California.  (Courtesy Gonzaga Athletics)
Gonzaga Bulldogs' Savier Pinales (2) and outfielder Enzo Apodaca (3) celebrate during the WCC Baseball Championships at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California. (Courtesy Gonzaga Athletics)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

For Gonzaga baseball the road to Omaha, Nebraska begins across the country.

The 12th-ranked Zags will travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, for the regional round of the NCAA Tournament, the field of which was revealed during Monday’s selection show.

Gonzaga, the region’s No. 2 seed, is set to square off with third-seeded Columbia of the Ivy League at 10 a.m. PST on Friday at English Field on the campus of the Virginia Tech Hokies – the top seed in the double-elimination Blacksburg (Virginia) Regional and the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA.

The Bulldogs knew for sure that they’d qualify for the national tourney, but they didn’t expect to be sent east.

“I thought there was a 95% chance we were either going to Corvallis or Stanford,” longtime Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf told reporters at Patterson Baseball Complex. “I don’t know the rhyme or reason for shipping us off to Virginia, but maybe they’re rewarding us a little bit because Stanford is a 2 (overall seed), Oregon State a 3 and Virginia Tech a 4.

“But you go where you go, and you’re going to have to beat good teams. We’re excited about the challenge – it’s something new and it’s good for our kids. They’re excited to get on a plane and go see what we can do.”

The Zags compiled a 36-17 record this year, winning every regular-season series in WCC play en route to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid and 12th in team history. The program has qualified for the NCAAs four times since 2016, but has never advanced past regionals.

“We want to go somewhere that no past Zag team has ever gone,” infielder Cade McGee said.

Gonzaga was eyeing a top-16 national seed and the right to host an NCAA Regional in Spokane, but those hopes fell through at the WCC tourney – the Bulldogs dropped two games against San Diego, including a 15-12 decision in 11 innings in the championship game Saturday.

“I think we’ve been playing good baseball the last three weeks, even though we’ve lost a couple of games,” Machtolf said. “I think we’re close to being a special kind of good.”

The cross-country trip won’t faze a Gonzaga team that claimed three wins at No. 7 overall seed Oklahoma State during the noconference portion of its schedule.

“That’s been our attitude all year: It doesn’t really matter where we go, who we’re playing – we think we’re gonna be able to win,” pitcher Gabriel Hughes said.

The Lions (30-16) claimed the Ivy League championship last weekend and are making their seventh appearance at the NCAA Tournament, and first since 2018.

Friday’s game, which will be streamed on ESPN+, pits Gonzaga’s stellar pitching staff against a productive Columbia lineup. The Zags rank 15th nationally in ERA (3.90) and 11th in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6). The Lions boast a .302 batting average, good for 29th in the NCAA, and 60 home runs.

“We have depth (on the mound) and I think that can bode well for a tournament like this,” Machtolf said.

Machtolf indicated that Gonzaga will start Hughes (8-2, 2.84 ERA), a sophomore right-hander, against Columbia.

“With our pitching staff, we can go anywhere and win,” McGee said. “We all really believe that.”

Virginia Tech (41-12) meets fourth-seeded Wright State (30-25) Friday following the GU/Columbia contest. The Blacksburg Regional champion will move on to face the winner of the Gainesville (Florida) Regional in a super regional – a three-game series against another advancing team – for a berth to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

“There’s an expectation that this is not only what we want to be doing at this time of the year, but we want to do well (at Regionals) and get to the next step, get over the hump,” Machtolf said. “It’s an expectation for our kids and that’s gratifying, for sure, but we realize we need to improve in a lot of areas to get to the ultimate goal, and that’s Omaha.”

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