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Gonzaga baseball prepares for WCC Tournament with lots of postseason implications

The Zags are trying to host a NCAA Regional for the first time in program history. In order to have a shot though, they must win the WCC Tournament.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Gonzaga baseball team won the WCC regular season this past weekend and, in the process, became the first team in program history to win every single conference series in a season.

Next up is the WCC Tournament, an event the vast majority of these players have never played in.

In 2020, the whole baseball season was canceled due to COVID and in 2021, the tournament was canceled for the same reason.

“It’s different,” said pitching coach Brandon Harmon of the tournament format versus a series format. “You’ve got to go for every game. A series, you’re something building up, and a Friday game can affect Sunday. Each game’s a one off right here. The biggest thing for our guys is not looking a day ahead because your advantage can flip in a hurry.”

“We’ve got to bring our best shot every day to each team because we don’t get another day to figure it out,” said Gonzaga pitcher Gabe Hughes. “Plus, obviously, there’s the double elimination part of it, so every loss is big and that means every game is big. The biggest thing is that every day, we’re going to get someone new. We’re going to get their best shot because we’re the number one team in the conference. We have that target on our backs. We have to go out and be able to give our best shot Thursday, Friday and Saturday against potentially three different teams and just bring that same intensity every day.”

One of the advantages the Zags have in this format is an extremely strong bullpen. Friday starter Gabe Hughes was named to the conference’s first team on Tuesday, while the team’s Saturday starter, Trystan Vrieling, earned a second team nod. Relievers Michael Spellacy and Owen Wild were also named honorable mention. That depth will come in handy as the Bulldogs will play in double elimination tournaments from here on out.

“Go out there with the same blood,” said WCC Pitcher of the Week William Kempner of the pitching staff’s mantra. “We talked about it yesterday. We are one team that have done things all year. We have a great staff doing it, so why not just go do the same things we’ve been doing? We have a lot of good guys, a deep staff that we can run through a tournament.”

What’s on the line for the Zags down in Stockton is pretty hefty.

If they win that tournament, they put themselves in a decent position to host a regional. If they lose, they’ll be on the road for the second straight year for the NCAA Tournament.

“I mean, it’s a lot,” said Hughes of the regional tightrope the Bulldogs have been walking all season. “Every series normally carries weight, but when you’re trying to host a regional and be the first team in program history to host a regional, every game carries weight. Every mid-week it was something. Every series it was something. I think there’s added pressure there, but I like it. I like living in the, you know, we could be the first team to do it, we could be the first team to make history here.”

And that history would sure mean a lot to this team as long as their trip to Stockton goes according to plan.

“It would mean the most,” Kempner said of hosting. “You can come back and say that you did that. That’s the best part. It’s about pride, but it’s also about the history about Gonzaga as a whole. We’re told we’re a basketball school sometimes, and now we’ve got to come out and prove that wrong a little bit. If we host a regional, that’s big time. Big time for Spokane too.”

“It’s a huge milestone to get out there,” said Harmon. “I think it’s huge for the baseball community here in Spokane to be able to do that. I think statistically too, teams win their own regional. You host it. You have an advantage. That’s a big piece as well, but there’s a path for us either way whether we’re at home or somewhere else.”

Gonzaga’s first game in the WCC Tournament is on Thursday at 3 p.m. due to having a first round bye. They will either play LMU, BYU, or San Francisco as the tournament format is that the lowest seed that advances then plays the #1 seed. Those teams play games on Wednesday.

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