In Tuesday's piece, I mentioned that UW and GU probably wouldn't throw their usual starters in the two-game rivalry series. As it turns out, neither squad sent their top hurlers out to the hill either day. The starters all threw well, and long into their games, but it was Washington (16-11) who was able to take advantage of their hits, while Gonzaga (11-17) left 13 runners on base and dropped both games of the series to the Huskies at Patterson Baseball Complex in Spokane. With the losses to their rival, the Bulldogs have lost seven of their last 10 contests, and slid down to seventh in the West Coast Conference.
The Zags put their trust in senior reliever Liam Baron to start Tuesday's game, and he did everything expected, plus more. He went into the eighth inning before he was replaced; by then he'd only allowed three runs (the only three GU would give up), one walk, and had struck out three. Granted, UDub had been hitting him the whole game (nine before he exited), but the defense had backed him up well and kept the opposing runs to a minimum. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough: Gonzaga only compiled six hits of their own in the whole game. I expect that this was partially due to the fact that UW starting pitcher Forest Snow, a reliever who hadn't racked up many innings, was unexpectedly brilliant: in his five innings, he only allowed three hits, one run, walked one, and struck out six. His pitches, even his fastball, had great movement, and were hitting the high 80's, even 90 a few times, on the radar gun. The Huskies proceeded to use the bullpen with two more pitchers, who struck out six more batters and shut GU out the rest of the game. Another low-scoring pitcher's duel: 3-1 Washington.
But even with the low score, Gonzaga's lineup put plenty of runners on the bags. Castellitto and Heid contributed two hits apiece, while Bolinger and Ortiz chipped in with ones of their own. As we've seen before, we have trouble bringing runners around when they're in scoring position. Sitting with the redshirt freshman behind home plate, it was evident the whole team is frustrated with this reoccurring issue.
To the dismay of Zag fans in the stands Wednesday, it was much of the same, where the Huskies posted a 5-1 victory, even though it was a tense 1-0 entering the eighth inning. Junior Andrew Danner was a straight-up stud, tossing all the way through the eighth. Unfortunately, that's where he gave up two more runs (making it 3-1), and UW finished the Bulldogs off with two more runs in the ninth. Danner's pitches were absolutely filthy: he racked up nine Ks, most of which came about with a perfect changeup. The trouble was that you could see him losing stream late in the sixth and through the seventh; coach Machtolf didn't have anyone up in the bullpen until the eighth, and GU had to suffer the consequences.
Fans were frustrated yet again when the Zags put up 10 hits and stranded seven. Mark Castellitto had the game of his season: 4-4 with the team's only run. Cameron Edman also put on a show, going 3-4....but that was pretty much it. Again, Washington's pitchers were money: they shut out Gonzaga into the bottom of the ninth and subdued a possible rally, forcing Bolinger into a game-ending 5-4-3 double-play. In the whole game, the Huskies' moundsmen didn't allow a single walk.
I realize that it's easy to criticize and be disappointed about the current slump, but let's not forget that, much like this year's basketball team, it's an educational year that is more for experience than contending for the WCC title; we knew that when five players left last summer for the MLB draft. And it's not the fault of any one player, but rather the fact that GU just can't keep a rally going right now. That will come with time and experience.
It is frustrating, however, that our Dogs are second-to-last in our conference, which is having a down-year itself (only three teams are above .500). Hopefully the Bulldogs will start to hit with runners in scoring position, since almost all of their last handful of games have been decided by just a run or two.
Also, thanks to Jake Kelly of the Gonzaga Bulletin for the great photo!