May 17, 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. – No. 23 Pepperdine clinched a share of the 2014 West Coast Conference regular-season baseball title with today’s 8-6 triumph over Gonzaga. The Waves rallied back from an early 3-1 deficit behind an 11-hit evening, led by freshman Aaron Barnett with three hits.
A.J. Puckett (Danville, Calif./De La Salle HS) picked up the win to improve to 2-2 on the season. The freshman relieved starter Aaron Brown (Chatsworth, Calif./Chatsworth HS) in the fourth and pitched 3.0 innings, giving up just one hit and one earned run.
After falling behind 3-1 with four innings in the books, the Waves (36-15, 18-8 WCC) overtook the lead, scoring three runs in the fifth. Although Pepperdine had extended the lead to four runs by the bottom of the ninth, Gonzaga threatened to steal away the victory and put the tying run at the plate with bases loaded and zero out. With the gap narrowed to just two runs, 8-6, Eric Karch (Fresno, Calif./Clovis West HS) got Caleb Wood to pop up in a bases loaded, two out situation to put a halt to the comeback.
Barnett went 3-for-5, driving in two runs for Pepperdine. Manny Jefferson (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood HS) also had an impressive outing with two hits and two RBI. Bryan Langlois (Oak Park, Calif./Oak Park HS) plated two runs off of two hits as well.
Gonzaga (24-27, 16-10 WCC) got on the board in the first inning, posting three hits off of Brown to push one run across.
The Bulldogs added to its run total in the second, scoring two more in the frame – all with two outs – to go ahead 3-0.
Jack Ross (Gilroy, Calif./Palma HS) led off the third inning with a strong hit into the gap in right center that landed the freshman on third base. Jefferson followed that up with a sacrifice fly to right field that Ross was able to score easily on to make it a 3-1 game.
Brown gave up three walks in the bottom of the stanza but got out of the jam after forcing Mitchell Gunsolus to hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Puckett relieved Brown after a scoreless top of the fourth. Although Gonzaga put runners on the corners with just one out, Puckett fanned one before Austin Davidson (Oxnard, Calif./Oxnard HS) caught a liner at third to end the frame.
The Waves’ offense was jumpstarted in the fifth by Brandon Caruso (Pasadena, Calif./Loyola HS), who reached first base on an error. Jefferson moved Caruso over to second base with a single up the middle before Davidson posted his 12th double of the year to send Caruso home.
After Davidson’s double to left field, Langlois followed suit with an extra base hit of his own to the opposite field to plate two more runs for Pepperdine and overtake the lead, 4-3.
Puckett retired the side to keep the momentum rolling in the visiting team’s favor. First basemen Brad Anderson (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza HS) opened the sixth inning with another double – the Waves’ third off of Bulldog starting pitcher Andrew Sopko in four batters. Back-to-back singles by Barnett and Caruso scored another run, and ended Sopko’s night.
Although Gonzaga got one run back in the bottom half of the inning, the collective pitching efforts of Jackson McClelland (Beaumont, Calif./Redlands East Valley HS) and Chandler Blanchard (Henderson, Nev./Coronado HS) held the Zags scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Waves added two more insurance runs in the top of the ninth, which later proved crucial to the victory. Karch gave up two hits and three walks, but still walked away with his 12th save of the season.
With today’s win, the Waves have guaranteed themselves a share first place in the final West Coast Conference standings along with Loyola Marymount. Another win in tomorrow’s season finale against Gonzaga, or an LMU loss, would earn the Waves the title outright. Pepperdine squares off with the Bulldogs at 12 p.m. on Sunday, May 18.