With no outs and two runners in scoring position, third-seeded Columbia had a chance to break a 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth inning of Friday's Blacksburg Regional opener against No. 2 seeded Gonzaga.
The Lions would capitalize on the opportunity, as catcher Weston Eberly hit an RBI single which was followed by a three-run home run from right fielder Hayden Schott. Centerfielder Joshua Solomon added another run with an RBI single to score designated hitter EJ Kreutzmann to make it 6-1.
GU catcher Tyler Rando responded with a solo home run in the bottom half of the frame, but Columbia (31-17, 17-4) would add two more runs in the seventh and eighth innings to defeat the Bulldogs (36-17, 20-7) 8-2 at the campus of Virginia Tech.
“It was certainly not our day,” said GU Head Coach Mark Machtolf. “Hats off to them. They outplayed us and certainly deserved to win that game.”
Through five innings, the game felt much like a pitcher’s duel between GU ace Gabriel Hughes and Columbia starter Sean Higgins.
After giving up an RBI double to Eberly in the first inning, Hughes retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced. However, the first-team All-American fell apart in the sixth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame. Hughes wouldn’t return for the seventh inning as he ended his outing with seven strikeouts and six earned runs.
“He was starting to cruise and I thought he was settled in,” Machtolf said. “I’m not sure if it was anything Gabe did, I just got to give credit to Columbia. They did a good job of executing their plan. When they were ahead in the count, they got their barrel where it needed to be.”
Eberly arguably gave the Bulldogs the most trouble, going 3-for-5 at the plate and driving in three runs, including a solo home run in the seventh inning off GU left-hander Bradley Mullan.
“We wanted to come out on the attack, get something started early,” Eberly said in a post-game interview on ESPN's broadcast. “We just wanted to make sure that we were not fighting from behind and something that we do is making sure that we’re always the one that's attacking and so that's what we did out here today.”
Higgins matched Hughes during the first five innings, allowing a single score, but he had a much smoother sixth inning as the Bulldogs only added one more run. The senior right-hander would be credited with a win after striking out six batters and surrendering six hits across six innings.
“He worked ahead really well and executed his pitches, and we didn’t really get our ‘A’ swings off in the right counts,” said GU third baseman Cade McGee. “When he didn’t work ahead, we gave him an easy out when we swung in 2-0 or 3-1 [counts].”
Columbia handed the ball to reliever Saajan May, who permitted one hit over the final three innings.
The Lions are set to face the winner of Friday night’s matchup between regional host Virginia Tech and fourth-seeded Wright State. The Bulldogs will play the loser in an elimination game on Saturday at 10 a.m.
“We’ve battled all year in games that we have pressure on us and something’s at stake, and I think we’re going to come together tomorrow and play our best baseball,” McGee said.