SPOKANE, Wash.—With two of the best starting pitchers in the West Coast Conference on the hill, Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount turned into the pitchers’ duel that everyone expected. The Lions got a complete game from their hurler, however, and won 4-0 at Patterson Baseball Complex & Washington Trust Field.
Both starters – Cory Abbott for LMU, Justin Vernia for GU – combined to allow just one run in 16.0 combined innings of work. The two did allow five and seven hits, respectively, but they pitched around those base knocks with Abbott stranding nine Bulldog runners and Vernia seven. Abbott picked up the win, his 11th of the season, while Vernia suffered the hard-luck loss, his third of the year.
In the sixth inning, the Lions scored the game’s first run, getting their only tally off Vernia. With men on first and second, Brandon Shearer sent a double down the right-field line, allowing the lead runner to reach home plate. With runners on second and third and just one down, Vernia intentionally walked Jimmy Hill to set up a double play. The Zags got that double-up, but not before Billy Wilson smashed a liner down the first base line. That ball found the glove of Zag first baseman Jake Vieth, who then stepped on the bag at first to escape the jam.
One inning later, the Zags saw their best scoring opportunity of the game to that point. Justin Jacobs led the inning off with a hard-hit single to the hole at short, and he advanced to third on a ground ball and throwing error during the at-bat of Jeff Bohling. With a man on third and one out, Patrick Chung came out to pinch hit. He attempted to lay down a bunt for a squeeze play, but Abbott’s high pitches prevented that, and Chung eventually struck out. Then, Jace VanDeBrake too struck out to end the frame.
With Vernia’s pitch count elevated, reliever Sam Hellinger took over pitching duties to begin the eighth and kept the Lions scoreless despite a pair of two-out singles. In the bottom of the frame, the Bulldogs attempted another rally after two-out base knocks from Sam Brown and Troy Johnston, but a groundout to first ended the threat and kept the game at 1-0.
Loyola Marymount got to Hellinger in the ninth inning, scoring three runs with five straight singles that were not hit terribly hard. Nonetheless, the Lions took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the frame, where the Zags once again mounted an ill-fated rally attempt. There, Gonzaga batters drew three walks off Abbott to load the bases for pinch-hitter Nick Brooks. The redshirt junior took his first pitch for a strike and then took a home-run swing on the second, just missing for strike two. On the third pitch, Brooks hit a chopper to third base, where Shearer was able to corral the ball and touch the bag for the force out to end the game.
· With the win, Loyola Marymount (17-6 WCC) re-took control of second place in the WCC standings after the Zags (16-7) moved into a tie at second Friday. The Lions trail top-ranked BYU by two and a half games, and GU trails the Cougars by three and a half. San Diego is fourth in the conference at 15-9, five games off the Cougars’ pace, and Saint Mary’s is in fifth place just a half-game behind the Toreros. BYU is the only team to have clinched a berth in the WCC Championships in two weeks; the top four teams in the regular season standings will advance to that conference tournament held in Stockton, Calif.
· The Bulldogs were shut out for the first time in over a year Saturday night, posting five hits and nine total baserunners but not pushing a run across. The last time Gonzaga was shut out in a game was April 24, 2016 versus Santa Clara, a game that also took place at Patterson Baseball Complex. The Zags themselves had won seven shutouts in a row since and were 5-0 in shutouts this season entering the night
· Abbott came into the game with a minuscule 0.18 ERA and perfect 7-0 record in WCC play. He was also leading the WCC in overall ERA, opposing batting average, and wins while being second in strikeouts. Vernia, meanwhile, was among the WCC’s top 10 in overall ERA, wins, and walks allowed.
The Zags (27-17, 16-7 WCC) and Lions (33-15, 17-6 WCC) will close out the series on Sunday, May 14, with a 3:00 p.m. rubber match. RHP Daniel Bies will take the mound for Gonzaga, while fellow righty Blake Redman gets the nod for Loyola Marymount.