By: Alex Crook, SMCGaels.com Correspondent
STOCKTON, Calif. — Ken Waldichuk started strong in the Gaels' defense of their West Coast Conference Tournament crown, but the fourth-seeded Saint Mary's baseball team fell 11-3 to Gonzaga in Thursday's opening game at Banner Island Ballpark.
Waldichuk (3-4) made his first career postseason start in his first opportunity and went 5 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, three short of his career high, before coming out for Johnny York in the sixth. Two of Waldichuk's strikeouts came in the first inning as the freshman started his first scent of postseason action hot.
“We just didn't do enough,” Gaels head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “We got beat in all the aspects of the game. They did a good job getting Ken's pitch count up and roughing up Johnny (York) a little bit. It was a long day.”
Saint Mary's got on the board first with a wild pitch and an infield single in the third after Brett Rasso led off the inning with a double off the left field wall.
Rasso's jolt to the Gaels' rally began the second straight outing that Saint Mary's got an early upper hand on Bulldogs starter Eli Morgan.
“I thought we had him on the ropes a few times early,” Valenzuela said. “He went six innings, threw 121 pitches, and we had guys on base almost every inning.”
Rasso hit almost identically to last year's 2-for-3 performance in the 2016 tournament opener, going 3 for 5 with two runs and a double against the Bulldogs. His first inning single gave him his 13th game in the last 14 with a hit.
“We got deep in counts against Morgan, but ultimately, it was the pitches we chased that could've turned into walks. I think that was the difference today; I think we were on them all game and we just have to cash in.”
Troy Johnston sparked the Bulldogs with a 3-for-5 day that included two runs and two RBIs, including a fifth-inning home run.
Eddie Haus extended his hit streak to seven games – his second longest of the season – with a double to left center and Austin Chauvin saw his first sliver of conference tournament action in his two years as a Gael, going 2 for 5 with an RBI.
The Gaels will play their second game of the tournament Friday at 12:05 p.m. against the loser of Thursday night's game between Brigham Young and Loyola Marymount. Tickets are available for purchase on the Stockton Ports' website. Those unable to attend will be able to watch the live stream on SMCGaels.com.
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