Dogs in the Dugout. Credit: Jake Kelly, the GU Bulletin.
After two consecutive heartbreakers vs. #21 Arizona and Washington State, the Bulldogs are fighting the urge to give in to dissapointment. But after seeing how those two games progressed, GU should be proud of their young team: the Zags trailed 5-1 heading into the eighth inning against the Wildcats but rallied to score three and barely lost 5-4. In Pullman, our boys were again down 5-1 and rallied late to make the score 5-4...and, again, it stayed there: 5-4. Now, considering Arizona is in the top 25, and that WSU received votes for the top 25, the young Dogs have given their fans, and themselves, hope that they can turn their fortunes around.
And there would be no better series to do it than this weekend. Tomorrow, Gonzaga (12-20, 1-1 WCC) faces off against Pepperdine (11-17, 1-1 WCC) to begin a three-game series. The Waves are one of the historically powerful west coast baseball teams, although they're having a bit of a down-year in 2010. Like GU, they lost plenty of players to the draft last June and are trying to fill the holes this year. But the Waves are underrated, considering their California-heavy preseason competition: they've already battled the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Oregon, Cal Poly SLO, Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, LSU, Stanford, and UCLA...they didn't schedule any creampuffs this season. Their record doesn't reflect their talent, and the Zags need to have their A-game at the ready this weekend, or else they might get dragged out to sea (I couldn't resist the cliché!).
Pepperdine opened WCC play on the 9th against Santa Clara and, like the Zags, only managed to finish two games. They split 1-1 with the Broncos in a pair of opposite games: the Waves took the first 8-0, and the Broncos pitched their way to a 3-0 victory on the 10th. Most recently, they got a shot at nationally-ranked UC Santa Barbara and got out-hit in an offense-heavy contest, in which the Gauchos pulled out a 15-10 W.
Looking at game scores, it's clear that PU can really hit. Although they don't boast any one player that brings in all the runs, they're an extremely balanced lineup. Only one regular is hitting above .300, but a majority of the starting nine is hitting between .260 and .290, with an exception or two. Power hitting shouldn't be too much of a worry for the Zag pitching staff: the Waves' homerun leader, catcher Nate Johnson, only has four of them and is batting a meager .181. Similar to many sluggers we saw in the major leagues in the 1990s, he either hits a bomb or takes a K.
On the other hand, Cody Martin won't get to take a break until he gets to the eight and nine hitters. Eight of the usual starters have double-digit RBIs, and six have more than 10 runs. One of the most potent threats is freshman Joe Sever, who batted almost .500 in high school. This kid's been taught to win, it's in his blood: his uncle is NFL legend John Elway. This summer, Sever is headed out to Minnesota to play in the Northwoods League, considered now on-par with the historic Cape Cod League for college summerball. Freshman hardly ever get NWL invites, so you know this kid is something special.
PU pitching has been steady this year. All but one of their starters have ERAs between 3.00 and 4.50, except for Matt Bywater, who, in 53 innings pitched, has a stunning 1.70. Last year he struck out 12 hitters vs. Washington State, who eventually went to the NCAA tournament with Gonzaga. He throws hard, but not necessarily speedy, with a wicked breaking ball.
The Bulldogs match up well with the Waves, but they need to do two things to take the series. First, they absolutely must keep errors to a minimum: they've plagued the Zags this season, and against a team that brings most of their runners around for runs, the Dogs can't afford to allow any extra runners passage to first. On the other side, the hitters need to start producing runs earlier in the game. Had we gotten our runs earlier in the past two games, we could have rallied later for an extra run and possibly pulled those out. If our boys can start batting aggressively, and our pitchers can keep it up, there isn't any reason that Gonzaga can't beat Pepperdine.