Sometimes a score doesn't reflect the progression of a baseball game. Sometimes it does. In this week's two-game set with U of O, we definitely saw one of both. The Zags put up a hard fight Tuesday in a 7-2 loss, but it was tied 2-2 heading into the seventh inning. Wednesday's game was a different story: a virtual tee-ball game where the Ducks outscored GU by nearly double-digits, 19-10. With the pair of non-league losses, Gonzaga (13-24, 2-3 WCC) has lost four straight, and stays planted at 6th in the West Coast Conference.
When I arrived at the ballpark on Tuesday and looked down the first base line to the Bulldog bullpen, my jaw dropped: I saw Liam Baron warming up with catcher Kevin Hawk. Nobody else was tossing in the pen, and it was clear that Baron would be starting the game. I checked with the redshirts behind the plate, and got confirmation: the same Liam Baron who had started on Saturday against Pepperdine and would be throwing on two days rest. Jeremy Stumetz was scheduled to pitch, but suffered an injury during warm-ups. The fact that Liam was willing to throw at far less than 100% to help his team speaks volumes about his character and desire to help his young team win.
And, despite what I had originally predicted, he threw fabulously. Baron went through the sixth inning and only allowed three runs on seven hits, striking out three and walking one. He was throwing a few MPHs slower than his usual speed, but he more than made up for that with his pitch movement. His curveball was pure 12-6 gas and his changeup got Ducks to ground out or strike out. The style contrasted heavily with U of O starter Zach Thornton, who threw almost exclusively fastballs in the first inning. There's a reason why: he was firing them in at 94 mph...and that kid has only started five games. He was just a tad better than Baron: fiving innings, one run on two hits, six Ks, and only one walk. Both pitchers were great, and hitting was again the factor which would determine the outcome.
The Ducks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second, and stayed there until the fifth when Royce Bolinger launched a homer into left-centerfield. In the sixth, Drew Heid blasted a line shot off the right field wall for a triple, and Castellitto brought him around on a single, tying it up at two. But with the seventh inning stretch in reach, coach Machtolf brought in Mark Phillips who allowed three runs, and the Ducks never let the Bulldogs back in, scoring two more in the eighth.
One of the drawbacks of this young team is that they still don't really have the ability to rally in clutch situations. After they allowed three in the top of the seventh, they went down 1, 2, 3 at the plate in the home half, and only produced one hit in the eighth. Much of the time, our hitting seems to go in trends: we'll bring some runs home, but not when we need to. The seniors are doing what they can, but with a lineup short on starting exposure, there's not much besides experience that can fix it.
Yesterday's game was the first that conflicted with a class of mine, and I decided to skip so I could write a real article instead of yanking the box score from somewhere.
Bad idea. Bad baseball and bad weather didn't help...and as it turns out, I had an essay due in the class that I skipped to be at Patterson. Bad day.
Yesterday's game looked a lot like Backyard Baseball on the "easy" setting. A pure slugfest that produced 25 Oregon hits, the Ducks smashed the Gonzaga staff for six runs in the first three innings. Jacob Brown started for GU and didn't make it out of the second inning. All in all, five pitchers saw mound time and only one of them didn't surrender runs. To be fair, U of O allowed 10 runs in their own right, but it was clear watching this game that the Ducks were going to win from the start. It really isn't worthy of analysis...just a shoddy game.
We saw two different Bulldog teams this week, even though we saw the same result. The first team hustled and played with heart, but the wheels came off at the end. The second were a bunch of deer in the headlights floored at the hitting ability of a Pac-10 program.
Our boys travel down to San Diego this weekend and then head to UDub next week. They'll be back at Patterson on the 30th for a series with the Santa Clara Broncos.