Zags lose extra-inning battle to San Diego in WCC Championship

Gonzaga catcher Ezra Samperi went 2-for-5 at the plate and scored two runs during his team's 15-12 loss to San Diego in the WCC Championship. 

Without a loss entering Saturday’s West Coast Conference (WCC) Championship round, San Diego had to lose twice for Gonzaga to be conference champions.

But the Toreros weren’t interested in using the first game as a warmup for game two. They wanted to win now and San Diego Baseball Head Coach Brock Ungricht made that clear when he pulled freshman starting pitcher Gabe Maya from the game after 11 pitches.

Maya had given up three hits and two runs while failing to record an out. The championship game at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark was Maya’s first college start and Ungricht opted to play it safe instead of waiting to see if his young starter would figure things out.

It was a tactic the first-year head coach employed for most of the game, only letting one of San Diego’s six pitchers throw more than 40 pitches.

In the opposing dugout, GU Head Coach Mark Machtolf was operating on a different philosophy.

Machtolf, who’s in his 19th season at the helm for the Zags, had three of his four pitchers throw at least 46 pitches.

His trust for his pitchers showed when he let Alec Gomez pitch through most of a six-run eighth inning and kept Nico Meglin on the mound despite giving up two home runs in the 11th inning.

The home runs put San Diego ahead 15-12 which would be the final score as the Toreros won the WCC title for the first time in nine years.

Aside from being named conference champions, San Diego earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“It feels fricking great,” Ungricht said in a postgame broadcast interview.

For the Toreros, there were parts of the game where a win didn’t seem very feasible.

“It’s the never giving up, the never quit, the toughness, the discipline, but most importantly staying together,” Ungricht said. “The brotherhood, that’s what it’s all about with these guys.”

The Zags led 5-2 after the first inning thanks to a two-run single from GU’s Tyler Rando and a three-run home run by Grayson Sterling.

When the Toreros came up to bat again, they were able to tie the game at 5-5 but GU answered by adding two more runs in the third inning. Seemingly in control, the Zags would hold a 10-7 lead after seven innings. However, the Toreros’ offensive explosion in the eighth inning would put them up 12-10.

San Diego called upon Ivran Romero to close out the final two innings, but after giving up a solo home run from Cade McGee in the eighth inning and an RBI single from Ezra Samperi in the ninth, the game would head to extra innings.

Neither team would score again until the top of the 11th inning when San Diego’s Jack Costello hit a solo home run to give the Toreros a 13-12 lead. Later in the inning, Cody Jefferis homered to right field that added two more runs to his team’s total.

The Zags were unable to score in the bottom of the 11th inning and the Toreros rushed the field to celebrate when San Diego reliever Kyle Carr struck out Logan Johnstone for the final out.

San Diego catcher Caleb Ricketts was named tournament MVP after hitting five home runs and driving in 12 runs in four games.

Henry Krueger is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @henrykrveger.