In a battle of eastern Washington foes on Tuesday night at the Patterson Baseball Complex, Gonzaga (20-17, 12-6 West Coast Conference) proved victorious over Washington State (8-28-1, 1-13-1 Pac-12) in a 8-5 win.
This was the second matchup between these teams this season, as they faced off in Pullman at the beginning of April, where the Cougars beat the Zags 12-10
“This rivalry goes over many years, so we have an ongoing battle with them,” said GU assistant coach Danny Evans. “To be able to even the series after they got us down in [Pullman] was big because now we have a chance to win the series.”
This was the Bulldogs' fifth game in six days, most recently coming off a tough 11-10 loss to No. 3 Stanford (29-6, 13-2 Pac-12) on Monday.
After four games in quick succession, the team was a little worn down and running low on pitching arms going into Tuesday night. Pitcher Justin Blatner went 4.1 innings to open on the mound for the Zags, despite not having started since March 15.
“We needed a little bit of a longer outing from Blatner than what is normally expected of him, he hadn’t been out there for a while, and was battling some tightness,” Evans said. “But we needed guys to step up on the mound today and go a little bit longer than what is normally expected of a pitcher midweek. WSU only had one midweek game while we had two, so we needed longer performances today.”
Blatner looked strong in his first two innings, giving up zero runs. The Zags' offense was able to produce three runs in the bottom of the second inning, thanks to a two-run double from Josh Bristyan and a fielder’s choice ground ball from Slade Heggen that plated one.
WSU showed some fight in the top of the third, scoring two runs on three hits to bring the game within one at 3-2, but the Zags promptly responded in the bottom of the inning. After Guthrie Morrison led off the inning with a double down the line, Troy Johnston launched a two-run home run that easily cleared the fence in right field, putting the Zags up by three at 6-2.
“It always feels good to get ahold of one like that, especially when it contributes to a big team win like tonight,” said Johnston, who ended the day 2-4 at the plate.
The Cougars were able to claw their way back into the game in the fifth inning, where they notched two more runs off of Blatner and managed to tie the game up by scoring one against Daniel Naughton, who replaced Blatner on the mound. That would be the only run they scored off of Naughton, as he pitched 1.2 scoreless innings after that.
The Zags were able to break into the lead in the sixth. Slade Heggen knocked in an RBI single and proceeded to score on a wild pitch later in the inning, making it a two-run game. Another run for the Zags in seventh inning was more than enough cushion for redshirt junior Trent Schulte, who shut out the Cougars in the last three innings of the game.
“We weren’t too happy coming back on the plane ride coming back after Stanford, so it was good to get some of that anger out on some Cougs, Johnston said.
The Zags are now three games above .500 at 20-17 and are currently in a three-way tie for first in the WCC with a 12-6 conference record.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Evan said. “We’re tied for first in the WCC going into our last nine games, and six of those nine are at home, so we have to take care of business at home.”
The Zags host San Francisco (24-17, 12-6 WCC) for a three-game series, beginning Friday at 7 p.m.