By Tyler Bindi | Sports Editor

Kevin Milam is congratulated by Jackson Thoreson after a solid performance on the mound. (Courtesy of smcgaels.com)

Coming off a home and home series where the Gaels were swept by Sacramento State, the team stayed home for a huge series against the West Coast Conference’s top team. The University of San Francisco took the first two games of the series, 5-3 and 1-0, but the Gaels were able to avoid the sweep by winning the final game by a score of 5-4. Saint Mary’s conference record dropped to 6-6 after the weekend, and the USF Dons improved their league leading record to 10-2.

The series was intended to begin Friday, but the opening game was pushed back to Saturday due to rain. The WCC matchup began with a pitchers’ duel between Nick Frank and Thomas Ponticelli that would give USF a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.  It was then that Brett Rasso hit a two run double to tie the game and fire up the Saint Mary’s faithful. However, the Dons immediately countered the Gaels with an offensive attack of their own by scoring three runs in the top of the ninth inning to push the score to 5-2. Saint Mary’s would not go down easy as Joey Fiske laced an RBI single to score Gio Diaz and cut the Don’s lead to just two runs in the bottom of the ninth. However, that was as close as they would get as they failed to produce the clutch hit they needed.

The second game of the series took place Sunday and was highlighted by a sensational outing from the USF starting pitcher, Riley Ornido. Ornido did not allow a hit until there was two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Ryan Novis singled down the left field line. The Gaels threatened in the bottom of the ninth as Eddie Haus reached first on a fielder’s choice before a Jackson Thoreson single moved Haus over to third base. The Gaels again could not come up with a clutch hit as they fell to the Dons 1-0. Kevin Milam was a bright spot for the team, pitching seven innings and allowing just four hits and one unearned run.

The final game of the series, and second of the double header on Sunday, was a tale of two halves. Saint Mary’s started the game off on fire by scoring four runs (all unearned) in the first inning due to RBI’s from Thoreson, Milam, Austin Chauvin, and Conor Thane. The Gaels would not score again until the fifth inning when Thoreson blasted a pitch over the right field wall for the first home run hit at Louis Guisto Field this season.  The home run gave Saint Mary’s a 5-0 lead. “I was just looking for something to hit,” said Thoreson after the game. “I hadn’t been swinging it too well recently, but I was just trying to barrel something hard. It ended up being the go-ahead, which was nice for the end, but at the time I was just trying to barrel something and keep the line moving.”

Meanwhile, Ken Waldichuk was dealing on the mound to the tune of allowing just two runs in 7 2/3 innings of work, while racking up a career-high 14 strikeouts.  The Dons would make things interesting by pushing across four runs in the eighth inning, but Michael Hobbs would come in for the ninth and shut the door to record his eighth save of the year

Saint Mary’s now looks towards another important WCC series on the road at the University of San Diego.  Thoreson spoke about the team’s mentality moving forward: “It was big to get that one…that just kind of highlights everything we’re going to have to do the rest of the season; we’re going to have to battle and win games from behind.”

Game times are set for Friday at 6:00 PT, Saturday at 5:00 PT, and Sunday at 1:00 PT at Fowler Park in San Diego, CA.

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