With conference positioning and potential at-large berths on the line, 10 of the 11 SoCal squads took to the diamond this weekend. (Pepperdine had the week off due to finals and graduation.) There were two big series with teams battling in their respective conference standings, but also playing their way toward the NCAA Tournament bubble.
This week’s action featured a midweek no-hitter and a batter driving in three runs in three consecutive games. San Diego’s Kris Bryant also went deep for his nation’s best 21st and 22nd homers, but he didn’t earn the Hitter of the Week honor this week. Instead, it comes from the Toreros’ crosstown rival.
We provided you with live updates on Twitter (@SoCal_CBDaily) throughout the weekend, but here’s a recap of all the weekend action:
The High Heat this week focuses on a pair of series that featured major conference standings implications. Both series featured visiting teams from up the coast that favor the color green, but only one of the two visiting teams was successful:
Long Beach State vs. Cal Poly — The Dirtbags had a huge week. They had an 11-1 midweek win at No. 9 UCLA and then took an important Big West series from visiting Cal Poly, despite dropping Friday night’s contest 8-5. Long Beach battled back with a 3-2 win Saturday. Juan Avila provided the go-ahead run with an eighth inning sacrifice fly in support of Jake Stassi, who received a no decision despite allowing only four hits in 6 1/3 innings pitched.
Avila had the game-winner on Sunday as well, but in a much more dramatic fashion. Long Beach used a four-run sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead, but Cal Poly responded with two runs in the next half inning to regain the lead. With one on and one out in the bottom of the seventh, the Mustangs went to closer Reed Reilly, who had shutdown the Dirtbags for three innings on Friday. The first two batters Reilly faced reached on a single and a walk, bringing Avila to the plate with the bases loaded. Avila drilled the first pitch he saw over the left field fence for a grand slam that propelled the Dirtbags to a 9-5 victory. The series win helped keep Long Beach three games back of Cal State Fullerton with the two rivals squaring off next weekend.
San Diego vs. San Francisco — The Toreros have played themselves into a big hole should they end up in any sort of tiebreaker scenario when the West Coast Conference Tournament rolls around. San Diego dropped the first two games of the weekend to San Francisco to give the Dons the series. The Toreros now have series losses to all three teams they are trailing in the WCC standings as well as to Loyola Marymount, who entered the weekend tied with second place with Gonzaga, San Francisco and San Diego.
San Diego continues to score, plating 20 runs against San Francisco, but the pitching staff has grown more and more worrisome. Ace Michael Wagner allowed six runs (five earned) in six innings on Friday and Dylan Covey didn’t make it out of the second inning in his start on Saturday. He gave up three hits and walked five batters enroute to four runs before being replaced without recording an out in his second inning of work.
The Toreros fought back on Saturday, scoring three runs in the eighth inning and tying the game in the ninth inning, but they couldn’t get the winning run home from second base with one out. In extra innings, San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer singled, stole second and came around to score on a Zachary Turner single and Dons’ closer Adam Cimber struck out the side to end the game.
There was one really bright spot on Sunday. Freshman PJ Conlon threw a 117-pitch shutout becoming the first San Diego starter to throw seven innings since March 1. Conlon scattered six hits and struck out five to improve to 7-0 while lowering his ERA to a WCC-best 1.21.
Pitcher of the Week:
Matt Florer (Loyola Marymount) — Senior left-hander Matt Florer had nearly been forgotten this season. Before an injury to weekend starter Trevor Megill, Florer had barely cracked double-digit innings pitched this season. Though he had a good ERA, LMU’s improved bullpen depth had cut into Florer’s playing time after he had thrown the second-most innings outside of the weekend rotation last season.
But following Megill’s injury, Florer was asked to go out on Tuesdays and pitch as many innings as he could. Head coach Jason Gill’s plan was to start Florer and then pitch by committee once he got into any kind of trouble. Utilizing that strategy, Florer lasted two innings against USC a week ago. He was given the ball again on Tuesday against Cal State Northridge. This time, though, the first trouble he ran into wasn’t until the late innings with the Lions holding a 5-0 lead.
Pitching coach Danny Ricabal came out and told Florer the game was his. The southpaw, who had never thrown more than five innings, got a fly ball and a double play to end an eighth inning threat. He returned to the mound in the ninth inning and finished off the second no-hitter in Loyola Marymount history with a strikeout. It was an improbable feat from the unlikeliest of pitchers, but that didn’t make the dogpile at the Page Stadium pitcher’s mound any less joyous. Florer’s final line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, HBP, 5 K, 134 pitches.
Honorable Mention: PJ Conlon (San Diego), Justin Garza (Fullerton), Grahamm Wiest (Fullerton), Nick Vander Tuig (UCLA), Jerry Keel (Northridge), Calvin Copping (Northridge), Nick Sabo (Long Beach), Mike Robards (San Diego State).
Player of the Week:
Ryan Muno (San Diego State) — The Aztecs struggled earlier in the season when Ryan Muno was forced to miss 18 games with a broken hand. San Diego State went 4-11 to start the stretch. His presence in the middle of the lineup changes the dynamic as it takes some pressure off Greg Allen and Tim Zier to produce every time they are up to bat.
The sophomore first baseman was key in San Diego State’s strong week as they went 3-1 with an 18-2 shellacking of UC Irvine and a series win against Fresno State. Muno produced a .400 AVG/.526 OBP/.733 SLUG/1.259 OPS slash line for the week. He went 6-for-15 and had three RBI in three straight games. He also knocked a pair of doubles and his second homer of the season.
Honorable Mention: Jeff McNeil (Long Beach), Josh Goossen-Brown (Northridge), Michael Livingston (Northridge), Taylor Sparks (Irvine).
Caught in ‘The Rundown’
UC Irvine vs. UC Davis — Down to its final out, UC Irvine sent up Ryan Cooper to pinch hit Sunday afternoon with the ‘Eaters trailing 3-2. Cooper squibbed a ball down the third base line for a single and moved to second when the throw to first was errant. After Chris Rabago worked a nine-pitch walk, Rabago beat UC Davis shortstop Adam Young in a race to second base after Young fielded a ball up the middle. The fielder’s choice loaded the bases for Connor Spencer.
Spencer fell behind 1-2, but hit a double into the right-centerfield gap to score the tying and winning runs. It was the second walk-off win of the weekend as Cooper laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to plate the winning run on Friday night. On Saturday, Matt Whitehouse took a shutout into the eighth inning before Pacific was finally able to scratch two runs across on him. It was too little, too late for the Tigers as Irvine took an 8-2 win.
Taylor Sparks continued to swing a hot bat, going 5-for-12 with a homer and five RBI. Rabago reached base eight times and scored four runs from the leadoff spot for the Anteaters.
Cal State Northridge vs. Pacific — The Matadors scored their second straight weekend sweep thanks to a five-run eighth inning to tie Sunday’s matchup before Cal Vogelsang hit a sacrifice fly for an 11th inning walk-off win. Vogelsang didn’t waste any time to make an impact upon his return from a broken wrist that had sidelined him for a month and a half. He knocked in runs in all three games, including a 3-for-4, 3 RBI performance in his first game back.
Jerry Keel continued his strong pitching, throwing his second straight complete game. He allowed eight hits and one run in a 6-1 win. Keel was followed by freshman Calvin Copping, who had the best outing of his young career on Saturday: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R (1 ER), BB, 6 K. Josh Goossen-Brown batted .333 for the weekend while picking up a win and a save while Michael Livingston reached base multiple times in each game.
#9 UCLA at Washington State — Washington State did what few teams have been able to do this season — score against UCLA closer David Berg. Twice Berg allowed inherited runners to score. On Friday, the tying run scored in the eighth inning, but the Bruins and Berg eventually got the win in the 11th inning when Shane Zeile singled home the winning run.
The Cougars scored against Berg in a tie game on Sunday when Pat Gallagher’s errant throw from first to third let the go-ahead run score. The Bruins were still able to get the series victory thanks to Nick Vander Tuig’s complete game effort on Saturday: 9 IP, 7 H, ER, 0 BB, 8 K.
#4 Cal State Fullerton at Hawaii — Thomas Eshelman had the worst start of his college career as he didn’t make it through the fourth inning as Hawaii took a surprise 4-3 upset victory on Friday night. Koby Gauna provided four strong innings of relief, but after Fullerton tied the game 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning, Gauna allowed the first two runners to reach and Hawaii was able to score the go-ahead win against Tyler Peitzmeier on a dribbler to third base.
The Titans bounced back with a pair of shutouts on Saturday and Sunday to take the series. Justin Garza (8 IP, 5 H, BB, 2 K) and Grahamm Wiest (8 IP, 2 H, BB, 5 K) were both fabulous. Garza improved to 9-0 while Wiest picked up his seventh victory before Michael Lorenzen entered and picked up his 13th save to go along with his five hits in the series. J.D. Davis provided five hits on Saturday alone. He also scored two runs and drove in a run in the game.
San Diego State vs. Fresno State — San Diego State re-took second place in the Mountain West with a series win despite dropping the Friday night matchup. Unfortunately, the Aztecs are now five games back of New Mexico. They were in danger of dropping the series after Fresno had a five-run seventh inning on Saturday, but bounced back with four runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Phillip Walby won the rubber match, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings. Tyler France had the only RBI as the Aztecs scored twice on wild pitches and once on a double play. Ryan Muno had three RBI in each of the first two games and reached three times in Sunday’s finale.
UC Riverside vs. UC Santa Barbara — The Highlanders snapped a seven-game losing streak with an 8-5 win on Sunday, but still lost the series with the Gauchos after being two-hit on Saturday. Ben Doucette provided a strong start in Saturday’s loss only allowing an unearned run in seven innings.
Closer Trevor Frank was clutch out of the bullpen in Sunday’s win, pitching the final 3 1/3 innings and only giving up one run to get his ninth save. Clayton Prestridge reached base twice in each game. Alex Rubanowitz batted .333 for the weekend and had a bases-clearing double to key a five-run first inning on Sunday.
USC at #7 Oregon State – Two years ago, USC went to Oregon State and handed the No. 2 Beavers their first conference series loss of the season in the next-to-last weekend of the year. The Beavers would have none of that this year. They swept USC, winning all three games in convincing fashion: 10-4, 3-0, 6-1. Timmy Robinson, who had been USC’s hottest hitter, entering the weekend with a 12-game hitting streak, was held hitless for the weekend.
Loyola Marymount at Portland — Playing on the road in the Pacific Northwest is never an enviable task. Facing an underperforming squad like Portland that features a strong weekend rotation is even worse. Loyola Marymount was riding high after Matt Florer’s no-hitter on Tuesday, but the weekend road trip was dreadful. The Lions fell from a tie for second place to seventh place in the West Coast Conference.
Colin Welmon didn’t make it through the fifth inning in an 8-3 loss Friday. On Saturday, LMU had a heartbreaking loss. It took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning, but Portland got a walk and three hits, including a two-run double by Jeff Melby that put the Pilots ahead. The Lions dropped another one-run contest on Sunday with Caleb Whalen’s sixth inning solo homer being the difference.