MORAGA, Calif. -- Two days of practice yielded improvement at the plate and the Saint Mary's baseball team turned that progress into a season-high 13 hits as the Gaels defeated Penn State 6-2 in the opener of a three-game series at Louis Guisto Field.
With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 6-7 on the season. Penn State falls to 3-7. The two teams will be back at it on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Moraga.
Saint Mary's turned on the offense early Friday, scoring one in the first and two in the second to take a 3-0 lead. All three runs were of the clutch variety, as Nikko Saenz came up big with a two-out RBI single in the first and Ricky Boas delivered with a two-run single with two outs in the second off Penn State starter Greg Welsh.
The early offense came in support of left-hander Ryan Brockett, who delivered another standout start on his home mound. The West Hills, Calif. native worked six innings, scattering five hits and striking out four while allowing just a pair of runs, one of which was unearned.
Penn State's lone offense came in the sixth inning when a single by Zach Ell plated one run. An error in the outfield on the same play allowed another run to cross and narrowed the Nittany Lions' gap to 3-2. Brockett wouldn't surrender the lead though, getting Ryky Smith to fly to center and keeping Saint Mary's in front.
The Gaels responded with a huge insurance run in the bottom of the inning, and again the damage came with two outs. With Ian McLoughlin on second and two outs, Saint Mary's leading hitter Anthony Gonsolin came to the plate with two hits already under his belt.
The Gaels' leadoff man came up big, punching a single through the left side to bring McLoughlin in and put Saint Mary's up 4-2. RBI singles by Anthony Villa and Michael Valentin Jr. in the seventh extended SMC's lead to 6-2.
"I think we just really focused in on the process, more about hitting than the results," said Gonsolin, who upped his team-best average to .383 with three hits Friday. "On Tuesday we had seven hits, I think, and we just thought about the process and it came out on our side today."
From there, Brad Nease took care of business on the mound. The left-hander from Granite Bay, Calif. has been Saint Mary's most consistent bullpen arm this season and he was impressive yet again on Friday, tossing a hitless final three innings, striking out two and retiring all nine hitters he faced in just 29 pitches.
"First of all, I didn't like our energy or enthusiasm in the dugout today. I don't know if it was a Friday lull or what it was," Saint Mary's coach Eric Valenzuela said. "Hitting off a left-hander isn't always easy. He did a good job mixing his pitches and we did a good job of being able to hold back, let it get deep and hit it the other way. It felt like we kept him off balance with the amount of bunts we showed and we found some holes. We executed and scored when we had to. But I wasn't happy with our energy and enthusiasm today in the dugout. You can't let teams hang around. Luckily, we got some runs there at the end."
Saint Mary's now moves to game two of its series with the Nittany Lions and the Gaels will look for continued improvement behind freshman Cameron Neff, who makes his fourth start of the season on Saturday.