MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's baseball team takes Louis Guisto Field for the first time this season beginning Thursday as the Gaels play host to UC Davis, Portland and Kansas State in a four-team field that will make up the 2014 Gael Invitational.
Play starts on Thursday at 10 a.m. when Portland squares off with Kansas State. Saint Mary's crosses the white lines at 2 p.m. when it hosts UC Davis in the 2014 home opener. On Friday, UC Davis and Portland get it started at 10, followed by Saint Mary's-Kansas State at 2. The Wildcats return to the field Saturday at 10 to face UC Davis, with Saint Mary's-Portland starting at 2. Sunday's final day of competition begins with the Gaels taking on Kansas State at 10 and UC Davis faces Portland at 2 to wrap everything up.
Live streaming video of every Gael Invitational game will be available via the Gaels Live video player on SMCGaels.com. Live play by play will be available for every Saint Mary's game and live statistics for all eight games will also be available through the website.
Saint Mary's takes its home field with a record of 1-3 after claiming the final game of a four-game set at New Mexico State last weekend. After a slow start, the Gaels' bats awoke in the latter part of the series, scoring six runs in the nightcap on Saturday and pounding out eight hits en route to an 8-3 win to close the series.
Third baseman Anthony Villa enjoyed his first series as a sophomore, going 7 for 14 to finish opening weekend with a .500 average. Hitting in the No. 2 hole all weekend, Villa also had a double and drove in a run. Nikko Saenz also found success hitting in the middle of the order, as the Gaels' cleanup hitter collected four hits, including two doubles, drove in three runs and scored three more.
On the mound, the Gaels got something of a mixed bag as 12 diffferent pitchers saw action. Ryan Brockett got the start Friday and surrendered just one earned run in 4 1/3 innings, but left in the fifth and ended up allowing three unearned runs as well. One bright spot out of the bullpen over the weekend was the performance of senior left-hander Brad Nease, who logged 5 1/3 innings in relief, allowed just one run and picked up the win on Sunday.
"Las Cruces is a tough place to play. After losing the first three games, our guys could've packed it in for the fourth but they didn't. They came out ready to play and that showed me a lot," Saint Mary's head coach Eric Valenzuela said. "The most important thing now is having a good week of practice. If that happens, we'll put ourselves in a position to show improvement this weekend."
Kansas State began the season ranked in the top 25 by several publications but a sweep at the hands of Cal Poly knocked the Wildcats from the rankings after just one week. Before coming to Moraga, the 2013 Big 12 champions took on San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon.
Head coach Brad Hill returns four All-Big 12 first team selections from his 2013 title team, including the Big 12 Player of the Year in infielder Ross Kivett and Big 12 Freshman of the Year RHP Jake Matthys. Where the Wildcats have had the biggest turnover is on the mound, with six freshmen seeing time on the mound in the season-opening series at Cal Poly. Left-hander Jared Moore is the lone senior on the staff.
UC Davis comes to Moraga with a 1-3 record after winning the second game of a four-game series against visiting Seattle last weekend. Two of those losses came by a single run, and one came in extra innings.
Senior outfielder Seth Batty led the Aggies offense in week one, going 6 for 11 with a double and an RBI. Head coach Matt Vaughn's crew pitched well enough to stay in three of the four games but the bats didn't follow as Davis hit just .230 as a team on opening weekend. That number won't sound quite right to Gaels fans though, as the Aggies scored a combined 32 runs in two wins against Saint Mary's last season.
There wasn't any easing into the 2014 season for Portland as it used opening weekend to travel to Los Angeles and take on 2013 NCAA champion UCLA. And, though the Pilots left Southern California with a 1-2 record, they had much to be positive about after beating the Bruins 1-0 on Friday and dropping a tough 4-3 decision in 11 innings on Sunday.
In Friday's season opener, Pilots ace Travis Radke pitched into the fifth before handing the ball off to a combination of three relievers that would take the team the rest of the way. Radke struck out seven in just 4 2/3 innings, Jackson Lockwood got the win with two scoreless innings of relief and Brandon Snyder and Colin Feldtman shut the door to preserve the victory.
Tickets to every Saint Mary's home game are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx. Those who buy a ticket to the first game of the day are welcome to stick around for the second, making the Gael Invitational a great place to watch plenty of quality college baseball.