By Alex Crook | Staff Writer
When the Saint Mary’s baseball team made their preparations for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament — a phrase that had never been associated with the program before — they knew they’d have to walk through fire to do so.
The walk continued over the weekend with a three-game series at No. 24 Vanderbilt, as the Gaels dropped two of three to the Commodores despite continued offensive production from Joey Fiske after the junior started out 2017 rusty.
Fiske continued his ongoing hitting-streak, as a first-inning single in Sunday’s series finale upped his stretch to 11 games. His three-game total came out to a 5-for-13 weekend.
The teams entered this series as polar opposites in a way, with Vanderbilt coming off losing two of three to Cal State Northridge and the Gaels enjoying have won five of their last six.
Saint Mary’s continued their momentum by putting up the first six runs in Friday’s series-opening game. But what was a statement for one team ended up awakening the sleeping giant in the other dugout. Vanderbilt chased Ken Waldichuk from the mound and put up seven runs of their own in a monstrous seventh inning before holding off a Saint Mary’s rally to take the opening game 9-8. The Gaels fell despite a great effort from Zach Kirtley, who went 3-for-5 in Friday’s loss with three RBIs.
Due to snow, the umpires rescheduled game two for Sunday morning to set up a doubleheader. The change of plans didn’t seem to bother either Fiske or Kevin Milam, who both contributed 2-for-4 days at the plate for a Gaels offense jumped out to another big lead. However, this time the Gaels kept their advantage behind seven quality innings from the right-hander Jake Valdez to tie the series with a 5-1 win.
As good as the Gaels have proven to be this season, Vanderbilt’s offense was too much as Saint Mary’s took an early lead in Sunday afternoon’s rubber match, but the Commodores gave Ty Madrigal the same treatment, forcing him out after four innings and rolling to a 9-1 to take the series.
Saint Mary’s continues a long stretch of road games this week. They face UC Davis on Tuesday for a single game before visiting CSUN for a three-game series against the Matadors. When Saint Mary’s heads home again next weekend, they begin conference play by hosting Portland in a three-game series.