STOCKTON — The Pacific baseball team was in position to win its first season-series against West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga on Sunday at Klein Family Field, but the Tigers’ bats fell silent and Pacific now must wait another season to achieve that goal.
Despite showing improvement over the series, the Tigers lost 7-1 to the Bulldogs in front of 241 fans. Pacific (5-10 WCC, 14-20 overall) took the opener 2-1, then lost 5-2 in extra innings Saturday, before Sunday’s defeat as Gonzaga (9-6, 18-16) broke open the game with four runs in the ninth.
In the previous three seasons against Gonzaga, the Tigers were a combined 1-8 and had been out-scored by a margin of 71-25 runs. Prior to Friday’s 2-1 win, Pacific’s last victory against the Bulldogs occurred on May 8, 2015 when it won 8-4.
Pacific coach Ryan Garko said his team fared relatively well against what he called the best team in the conference.
“If you told me we’d be this competitive, other when it got out of hand there at the very end today, I think we have a vision and we’re trying to build something,” Garko said. “It’s year one. Right now, we just want to be as competitive as we can and learn and get better.
“It’s no secret, you get deep into our bullpen and you have a lot of freshmen who have a long way to go,” he said.
Garko praised starting pitcher Cooper Casad, who kept the Tigers in the game by allowing two runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out two over six innings. Casad, whose ERA was 2.48 prior to Sunday, saw his overall record fall to 3-3.
“It’s like a catch-22 because Cooper was our best reliever, so we made him a starter,” Garko said. “I think he’s been our best pitcher. I don’t even think he had his best stuff today, but six innings and two runs, that’s enough out of any starter on any Sunday with the wind blowing out.
“We just need to hit,” he said. “It’s not acceptable to have no extra-base hits until the next to last batter of the game. We have to go back to work. We have to learn to win some of these close games to get to where we want to go.”
Bradley Jekich, a freshman from Boise, Idaho, had two of Pacific’s five total hits. His double off the left-field fence in the ninth was Pacific’s only extra-base hit of the game.
“We competed in all three games, and it came down to just a few minor mistakes,” Jekich said. “You’ve got to compete in every aspect, whether it’s defense, hitting, or pitching. It’s the little things you can control. The good thing about baseball is there is a game Tuesday.”
The Tigers opened the scoring in the bottom of the third inning when Carter Hayes led off with a walk. After Kevin Sandri bunted him to second, No. 9 hitter Keaton Glover singled him home for his 11th RBI of the season. The Tigers were primed for more, but Glover and Tarantino, who also singled, were left stranded when Nate Verlin flied out and James Free struck out looking.
Gonzaga scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead as clean-up hitter Nick Brooks was hit by the first pitch of the fourth inning. After Austin Pinorini singled, both Brooks and Pinorini scored on a single by Carson Breshears and a double by Isaac Barrera.
Gonzaga’s threat to make a big inning ended when Casad induced a pair of flyouts with runners in scoring position. Those two outs were the start of eight consecutive batters Casad, a senior with a 2.48 earned run average entering Sunday, retired in the middle innings.
Freshman lefthander Lucas Sweany, from Vacaville, relieved Casad, who had thrown 98 pitches, in the top of the seventh. He retired the first two batters, then hit Ernie Yake, before right-fielder Tyler Ryan made a diving catch to end the inning.
After the seventh inning stretch the Tigers were in position to tie the game when Jekich walked and was bunted to second by Hayes. However, Sandri and Glover grounded out to end the threat.
Gonzaga increased its lead to 3-1 in the eighth when Gunnar Schubert led off with a single. He later scored on a single by Breshears.
In the bottom half of the inning, Gonzaga reliever Casey Legumina faced the top of Pacific’s order and struck out Tarantino and Verlin before inducing a groundout by Free. Free, a sophomore, entered the game with a team-best .325 batting average, finished the series 2-for-11 with four strikeouts.
Pacific will play Tuesday at Nevada before returning to Klein Family Field on Friday as the Tigers host Saint Mary’s beginning at 6 p.m. The Gaels swept the Tigers last season, outscoring Pacific 23-12.