By: Alex Crook, SMCGaels.com Correspondent
MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary's baseball team took one step closer to the West Coast Conference tournament Friday on the heels of grand slams from Kevin Milam and Jackson Thoreson, taking the series opener over rival Santa Clara 13-7 at Louis Guisto Field.
The Gaels have hit five grand slams over the course of the year. Friday's slams from Milam and Thoreson weighed the biggest, though, in terms of postseason chances. But for the duo, it was just another at-bat on just another day.
“It was just a matter of doing what we've tried to do all season,” said Thoreson, who went 2 for 4 on the day. “Putting together good at-bats and helping the team.”
Senior lefty Johnny York improved to 6-3 in his final start at Louis Guisto Field, fanning three Broncos through 6 2/3 innings before departing in the seventh.
Joey Fiske went 4 for 4 on the day, pushing his hit streak to 11 with two doubles and a single. The second two-bagger led off the Gaels' big go-ahead third.
“The way our offense is playing,” Fiske said, “there's nothing we need to change. We come out with the attitude that we should score 20 runs every day. I like where this offense is headed.
The Poway native, who also set a new career-high in the sixth inning with his 18th stolen base of the year, gave the Gaels their 17th game in the last 18 with an extra-base hit. Saint Mary's finished with six extra-base hits Friday, giving it 35 total in 10 games this month.
The Gael offense kept its foot on the pedal through the middle innings, plating seven runs combined in the third and fifth innings with four hits.
“We know what's at stake here,” said Milam, who went 1 for 3 with his third-inning blast. “This is the biggest series of the year without a doubt. We're hungry and hot. It's an awesome feeling this way, being on a team like this right now.”
Santa Clara refused to go down quietly, scoring five runs in the seventh inning with all of them coming on two outs. John Cresto led the Broncos with a 1-for-4 day while scoring twice and homering in the first.
Relief pitching kept Santa Clara in check though as Conner Loeprich and Ken Waldichuk combined for six strikeouts, while Waldichuk recorded three of his first five strikeouts on 10 pitches. In addition to inching the Gaels nearer to their second consecutive conference tournament, Friday's win also gave them their first 35-win season since 1977, when the team set a program record with 41.
Saint Mary's still has two games to play against the Broncos with zone pitching and offensive execution being two of the priorities for Gaels head coach Eric Valenzuela, but the idea of coming out with the right mentality doesn't change, regardless of the opponent.
“The last couple series have all been with the mentality of, ‘win or we're done,'” Fiske said. “Nothing changes against any team we face at this point.”
The series with the Broncos continues Saturday with a 1 p.m. first pitch. Tickets are available for purchase on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx. The game will be streamed live on SMCGaels.com.
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