There were some matchups with big postseason potential implications this weekend as 10 of the 11 SoCal squads took to the diamond. The Big West featured some crucial matchups with four teams chasing after Cal State Fullerton.
This week’s action featured seven pitchers throwing complete games, yet the Pitcher of the Week did not. San Diego’s Kris Bryant hit five round trippers last week. He hit his nation’s best 26th, 27th and 28th homers over the weekend, but he didn’t earn the Hitter of the Week honor this week. Instead, he was bested by a teammate.
We provided you with live updates on Twitter (@SoCal_CBDaily) throughout the weekend, but here’s a recap of all the weekend action:
Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie has said on several occasions he doesn’t believe a team ranked lower than third in the Big West Conference will receive an at-large bid this season. Irvine, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara were all tied for third place (four games back of Fullerton and three games back of Northridge) entering the weekend.
This week’s High Heat focuses on a pair of series that featured the four teams chasing Fullerton and the Titans facing off with the only team to win a Big West series against head coach Rick Vanderhook:
Cal Poly at UC Irvine — Irvine got a dominant performance from Andrew Thurman to open the series. He pitched a complete game four-hitter, allowing one run while striking out eight. The offense gave him plenty of breathing room as it beat up Cal Poly ace Joey Wagman for 12 hits. He was chased after giving up six runs (five earned) in 6 1/3 innings.
Cal Poly evened the series with a 4-3 win on Saturday thanks to the assistance of three Irvine errors. The ‘Eaters had an opportunity to overcome their mistakes in the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with two outs, but couldn’t get the big hit it needed to even the game and/or take the lead.
That wouldn’t be the case on Sunday. They scored early and often with 11 runs in the first four innings. A couple of runs would have been just fine as Andrew Morales put together one of his best starts. He struck out a career-high 10 batters in seven scoreless innings and only allowed four hits. He is now 10-0 with a 1.79 ERA.
Taylor Sparks continued to tear the cover off the ball. He was 7-for-13 with two doubles, a triple and a home run on the weekend, earning him Big West Player of the Week honors. He scored and drove in at least one run per game. He is now batting .363 with 24 extra-base hits, including nine homers, for a .964 OPS.
Cal State Northridge vs. UC Santa Barbara — Northridge and Santa Barbara split the final two games with each team taking a game in convincing fashion, but it was the opener that proved to be the decider. It’s not often that a 6-1 game is a pitcher’s duel, but when the game is scoreless heading into the ninth inning, you know both starters are dealing.
After pitching an inning in a midweek upset at No. 8 UCLA, Northridge ace Jerry Keel showed no ill effects, bouncing back with eight shutout frames. He allowed only four hits and two walks while striking out seven, but after 122 pitches, he had to be removed. UCSB ace Austin Pettibone was more economical, needing only 113 pitches for the complete game victory. The Gauchos scored six runs in the final inning as closer Josh Goossen-Brown struggled with his location and had to be relieved after walking in a run, giving up a two-run single and hitting a batter to reload the bases.
Santa Barbara took the series on Saturday as Robby Nesovic did it two ways — picking up the win with six strong innings and helping himself out with two hits and two RBI in a 6-2 victory. On Sunday, John Salas went the distance for the Matadors to salvage a game. Chester Pak supplied the offense with three runs and three RBI on three hits, including his first two career home runs.
#4 Cal State Fullerton at UC Riverside — Last year, the Highlanders were able to stun Cal State Fullerton in the Titans’ own ballpark, winning the final two games to take the series, including a 1-0 complete game shutout from Dylan Stuart on Sunday.
Stuart, Riverside’s Friday starter this season, didn’t fare quite as well against Fullerton this year. He was banged around for 10 runs (eight earned) on 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Up 10-0, Rick Vanderhook was able to rest his freshman starter after five scoreless innings. It would become the theme of the weekend. On Saturday, the Titans put up a six-spot in the first inning and a five-run tally the next frame and rode it to a 12-0 shutout. Starter Justin Garza was again gone after five innings.
Grahamm Wiest got an early departure on Sunday as well, but Riverside turned the tables, scoring six runs in the first two innings. The Highlanders took a 7-1 lead and held on for dear life as the Titans chipped away with two runs in the sixth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth to make it 7-6. They loaded the bases with one out against Riverside closer Trevor Frank, but Frank clamped down to get Anthony Hutting and Jake Jefferies, Fullerton’s two most productive hitters on Sunday. Clayton Prestridge drove in three runs in the game and had hits in each of the weekend contests.
Chad Wallach supplied the power throughout the weekend. He was 6-for-7 with a walk while knocking two doubles and a homer. Wallach drove in seven runs, including five on Saturday. Matt Chapman also had three extra-base hits and knocked in six runs.
Player of the Week:
Austin Green (San Diego) — Things haven’t gone exactly how redshirt senior Austin Green planned when he became a Torero. After starting 35 games and batting .287 with five homers as a freshman, Green started 21 games his sophomore year, was forced to redshirt after six games in 2011 and played in only 21 games last season. Green received only 40 at bats last season (half the at bats he got his sophomore year and just a little more than a third the number from his freshman campaign) and hit only .200.
His senior season hasn’t been great. Entering this week, the outfielder/backup catcher was batting .207 in 116 at bats. But like a veteran thoroughbred Green saved his best for the final home stretch finishing stronger with every kick. Green built on his performance each game, escalating from a 2-for-5 outing with a double and a run scored at UNLV on Tuesday to his career day on San Diego’s Senior Day when he went a perfect 4-for-4 with three runs scored, three extra-base hits and six RBI.
He started with a successful squeeze bunt for an RBI, followed with back-to-back homers — a two-run shot and a three-run blast. He finished with a double and a single before being lifted for a pinch hitter. For the week, Green finished 11-for-18 with seven runs, three doubles, two homers and nine runs batted in. In one week, he boosted his batting average 54 points to .261.
Honorable Mention: Jeff McNeil (Long Beach), Kevin Kramer (UCLA), Cody Regis (UCLA), Taylor Sparks (Irvine), Chester Pak (Northridge), Kris Bryant (San Diego), Greg Zebrack (USC), Kevin Swick (USC), Chad Wallach (Fullerton).
Pitcher of the Week:
Andrew Morales (UC Irvine) — Coming into the season, Andrew Morales’ role was up in the air. In the first game of the season, the Rio Hondo Community College transfer allowed three runs in an inning of relief. He came out of the bullpen in three of the first four games before getting the ball to start the finale of a four-game set with Cal. He pitched into the seventh inning allowing only an earned run to collect his third win of the two-week old season.
He’s been the ‘Eaters Sunday stopper ever since, compiling a 1.53 ERA since joining the starting rotation. Morales is now 10-0 on the season after pitching what may have been his best gem of the season on Sunday. In a vital conference rubber match, the 6-foot, 170-pound right-hander struck out 10 batters in the first four innings. After allowing a single and a walk in the fifth inning, Morales retired the final eight batters he faced before turning the ball over to the bullpen with an 11-0 lead after seven innings.
In a crucial point in the season, Morales stepped up big time with a career-high in strikeouts to boot. He has now pitched 80 1/3 innings and has a 71/17 strikeout to walk ratio.
Honorable Mention: PJ Conlon (San Diego), Andrew Thurman (Irvine), Jerry Keel (Northridge), John Salas (Northridge), Ryan Doran (San Diego State), Wyatt Strahan (USC), Nigel Nootbaar (USC), Shane Carle (Long Beach).
Caught in ‘The Rundown’
#8 UCLA vs. Arizona — The Bruins may have officially ended any hopes Arizona had of repeating this season. UCLA took the reigning national champs out behind the woodshed in a three game sweep. Senior Cody Regis broke out with six hits and eight RBI in the first two games of the series to propel Adam Plutko (6.2 IP, 2 ER) and Nick Vander Tuig (7.1 IP, ER) to wins.
On Sunday, the Bruins jumped up 7-2, but Arizona loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning. Ryan Deeter entered and got two pop ups and a ground out to end the Wildcats threat. UCLA scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning to put the game out of reach. Chris Keck, Kevin Kramer and Pat Valaika all homered in the game.
San Diego vs. Portland — When they are hitting well, there isn’t a much more fun team to watch than the Toreros. There was plenty of fun viewing this weekend in San Diego’s final home series as it scored 47 runs and knocked 20 extra-base hits, including six homers on Sunday. Redshirt senior Austin Green left a final lasting impression, going 4-for-4 with a double, two homers and six RBI.
Kris Bryant, the nation’s top slugger, saved a great final performance for the home crowd. He had two of those Sunday shots in his final home game, finishing 5-for-7 with five runs, a double, two homers and four RBI in his final home game. He finished the week 11-for-22 with 12 runs scored and 10 RBI! He also hit five more homers in the week to give him 28 and put him within two of Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache’s BBCOR record of 30. Ho hum.
PJ Conlon took over the Friday starting role and continued his strong freshman campaign. He followed up his complete game effort last weekend with an eight inning, one run outing to improve to 9-0 and was named WCC Pitcher of the Week. On Saturday, Rich Hill decided to pitch backwards. Max Homick got the start and went 3 2/3 innings before handing the ball to Michael Wagner, who pitched the final 5 1/3 frames to pick up the win. Dylan Covey had his best outing in three weeks on Sunday, pitching six innings and allowing two earned runs.
USC vs. Washington State — For 21 innings, the USC pitching staff was dominant. From the seventh inning Friday to the end of the Trojans’ series win, Washington State managed only one run. Wyatt Strahan pitched an impressive seven-hit complete game, allowing only a single run in the ninth inning on Saturday. Nigel Nootbaar followed with an even more impressive seven-hit shutout — the first by a Trojan since Anthony Vazquez in 2009.
The Trojans almost had a sweep despite falling behind 7-1 in the sixth inning on Friday. USC scored one in the sixth, two in the eighth and two in the ninth to make it 7-6. The Trojans had runners on the corners, but Cougars reliever Richie Ochoa was brought in and got a groundout to end the game.
Greg Zebrack was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after reaching base 11 of his 13 plate appearances. He was 7-for-9 with four walks, a double, three RBI and a stolen base. Kevin Swick also had a big weekend: 8-for-11, 4 R, 2B, 3 RBI, SB.
San Diego State vs. Air Force — Michael Cederoth took a 4-2 loss in his return to the rotation after missing a start due to an oblique strain, but the Aztecs picked him up, winning the final two games to take the series and get back above .500. San Diego State was shut down by Air Force’s Cameron White in the opener, but bounced back with 16 runs in the Saturday and Sunday matchups.
Ryan Doran pitched a complete game on Saturday and took a water bucket for his efforts. He was supported by Ryan Muno’s 3-4, R, HR, 4 RBI night. Muno followed that up by hitting two doubles, reaching base and scoring three times the next day behind Philip Walby (7 IP, 2 ER)
Long Beach State vs. Hawaii — The Dirtbags were one big inning away from a sweep of the Rainbows. After Shane Carle went the distance in a 6-2 win Friday night, Long Beach gave up four runs in the second inning on Saturday and could never string together the hits to catch up, stranding 11 runners.
Veterans Jeff McNeil and Juan Avila propelled the Dirtbags to the series victory in a tight 3-2 contest in the finale. As he has done several times this season, McNeil got Long Beach going in the first inning. He singled, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice and scored on an Avila groundout. McNeil did almost the same thing leading off the sixth inning for the eventual game-winning run. He singled, stole second and went to third when the throw got away. Avila scored him once again with a productive out — this time a sacrifice fly to left field. Hawaii got the tying run to third in the ninth inning, but Jon Maciel got the final two outs for his seventh save.
Pepperdine vs. St. Mary’s — Pepperdine was ranked second in the preseason West Coast Conference coaches’ poll after winning the WCC last season. However, the Waves may need a perfect storm just to make the inaugural WCC Tournament this year after dropping seven of their last nine conference games.
(If St. Mary’s wins two at BYU and both Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount sweep, all four teams would have 13-11 conference records. The West Coast Conference tiebreakers are not listed on their web site, so I have emailed the conference asking for clarification on what its multiple-team tiebreakers are.)
After winning 5-3 behind Scott Frazier on Friday, the Waves sat a half game back of BYU and a game ahead of St. Mary’s and Loyola Marymount in the battle for the fourth and final WCC Tournament spot. But the Waves left the bases loaded in the ninth inning on Saturday and a 10th inning balk by closer Michael Swanner gave the Gaels a 3-2 extra inning win.
St. Mary’s then took the pivotal rubber match on Sunday, knocking Aaron Brown around for 10 hits and eight runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched. A five-run fifth inning did Pepperdine in and set the Gaels up with an opportunity to play their way into the WCC Tournament. They travel to BYU for their final series.