The dugout diaries: Torero baseball rounding third and toward postseason
By Jackson Shannon
It was a pretty good week for Torero baseball as we were able to win the series on the road against the Saint Mary’s College Gaels. Last week I talked about how important it would be to win our remaining conference series. Fortunately, we won Friday and Saturday taking the series and keeping pace in the West Coast Conference standings.
Friday’s game featured a new Friday starting pithcer for the Toreros as sophomore Max Homick took the mound. Instead of starting our normal Friday starting pitcher, junior Michael Wagner, coach Rich Hill decided to move Wagner to the bullpen to become our closer and give Homick the opportunity due to the success Homick had been having this year out of the bullpen. Hill felt comfortable making the move due to Wagner’s prior bullpen experience.
“I had a lot of success coming out of the bullpen last year so I was really comfortable with the move back” said Wagner.
Homick put in a good start pitching five and two thirds innings while allowing three runs and striking out seven batters. Offensively, the game started off with a bang as senior outfielder Lucas Hagberg sent the first pitch of the game over the left field fence for his first homerun of the year. It was a dramatic game with many lead changes but we were able to pitch out of a lot of jams and our offense was consistent all game, putting up ten runs. In his first game as our closer Wagner picked up his first save of the season as we won the game 10-7.
Saturday’s game wasn’t as dramatic thanks in part to another good start by freshman pitcher PJ Conlon. Conlon didn’t have as good of stuff as he did last weekend in his complete game shutout, but he consistently made good pitches and attacked the zone. Conlon pitched seven innings allowing three runs and striking out six. Junior third baseman Kris Bryant hit his 23rd home run of the season and our offense was able to battle a quality starting pitcher and score some runs and we won the game 6-3.
With the two wins Friday and Saturday we put ourselves in position for the sweep on Sunday. It was senior day for the Gaels so we knew that they were going to give it their all. The game was filled with lead changes and big plays. Coach Hill likes to make the analogy that the game is like a boxing match, we punch them and they punch back all day. Junior Dylan Covey got the start and struggled in the first inning, surrendering three runs, but he eventually settled in and gave us a quality start on the mound.
We were able to tie the game 4-4 in the sixth inning but gave up the lead and trailed 6-4 heading into the ninth. The Gaels brought their senior right-handed closer into the game and we sent up a barrage of left-handed hitters to face him. Senior AJ Robinson started the rally with a one-out single, then junior Logan Davis followed Robinson with a single to right field. A wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third and put the tying run on second. Sophomore Austin Bailey entered the game with two outs as a pinch hitter and hit a chopper just past the first baseman and we tied the game at six runs apiece.
“I went up to the plate looking to go the other way but instead he came inside with a fastball and I was able to pull it just past the first baseman” said Bailey.
Unfortunately we couldn’t hold the lead in the bottom of the ninth and the Gaels singled home the tying run and won the game 7-6. Sunday’s game was a grind and a great battle, easily one of the hardest things to do in college baseball is sweep a series on the road so we can’t be too disappointed about this loss.
With six games left in the season every game becomes that much more important. In order for us to make it to the NCAA tournament we need to win the majority of our remaining games, and most importantly make our conference tournament. The top four teams in the WCC make the conference tournament and currently we are in fourth place. A sweep against the University of Portland Pilots will clinch a berth in the tournament, but winning two out of the three will most likely get us in.
The most important aspect of getting a bid into the NCAA tournament is team RPI, the Ratings Percentage Index. RPI is a statistical number which ranks teams essentially based on their strength of schedule and winning percentage. Fortunately for the Toreros, we have an RPI in the 40s, which leads the WCC. We are projected to make the NCAA tournament, but we can’t look at the projections and be complacent with our positioning. We need to buckle down and focus on one game at a time and take care of business.
This will be my last Dugout Diary as I am graduating this spring. My three years at USD have been great. I wish I had another year of eligibility but my time as a student-athlete have come to end.
I have really enjoyed writing the Dugout Diary the last two spring semesters and hope I was able to bring insight inside Torero baseball. Come out and support us in our last home series this weekend against the Pilots and especially on Sunday May 12 at 12pm as we honor the senior class.