SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In dramatic fashion, the Gonzaga University baseball became the first West Coast Conference team to earn its berth to the WCC Championship tournament Friday with a 6-4 extra innings victory at Santa Clara University. The Bulldogs scored three runs in the eighth inning and another two in the 10th to prevent the last place Broncos from winning its first WCC game.
The Bulldogs (29-14-1, 16-6 WCC) take one step closer to earning the No. 1 seed at the tournament in Stockton, Calif., and the regular season championship, while the Broncos (10-33, 0-19) continue to battle for a conference win.
Gonzaga trailed 4-1 entering the eighth before the bats came alive. The rally began with a one out walk to Mitchell Gunsolus. Caleb Wood then hit what should have been a routine fly ball out to left field but Bronco Justin Gisch dropped it allowing Wood to reach and Gunsolus to advance. Cory LeBrun then drove a ball down the right field line to score Gunsolus and get GU back in the game.
The rally continued with the bat of Clayton Eslick who got his second RBI of the game with a single to right field. Gonzaga nearly took the lead on an Alex Bonczyk single to right field but Steven Halcomb was thrown out at home on the play. After trailing most of the game, the three runs tied the game at 4.
The Zags struck again in the tenth. Wood opened the inning with a double and advanced to third base on a LeBrun sacrifice bunt. Halcomb reached on his sacrifice bunt after an error from the SCU first baseman as Wood scored the go ahead run. Brock Slavin brought home the insurance run with a sac fly to left field.
The 6-4 lead was enough for Kenny Smith (4-0) who retired the Broncos in order. Smith, who pitched two innings, gets the win and did not allow a Bronco base hit.
Marco Gonzales got the start for the Zags and put forth a valiant effort. Gonzales struck out a season-high 12 batters in eight innings of work. He allowed nine hits and four runs.
Santa Clara nearly pulled the upset thanks to a strong start from freshman Reece Karalus. The righty went seven innings allowing four hits and four runs. After allowing two hits in the first, Karalus retired the next 14 of 15 batters he faced before Halcomb singled in the seventh inning.
Gonzaga improves to 16-2 in night games and 4-1 in extra inning contests.
The 2013 season is the first time the WCC will use a four-team, neutral-site championship to be held at Banner Island Ballpark May 23-25. The top four teams in the final WCC standings will make the trip and only three spots remain with GU clinching the first.
The two teams will resume the series Saturday with Tyler Olson facing Mike Couch. The game is set for a 3 p.m. first pitch as the Bulldogs attempt to clinch the WCC regular season title.