MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's baseball team is focused early in the 2014 season on believing in the process, doing the little things during the week and in the middle of games that, eventually, will turn into wins.
That belief brought a victory Sunday and, as a result, a tournament title.
A slow start put the Gaels in an early hole against Kansas State but Saint Mary's would rally, putting up five runs in a huge seventh inning en route to a 7-3 win over the Wildcats in SMC's final game at the Gael Invitational. With the win, Saint Mary's finished the tournament 3-1 and claimed the crown at its own Invitational.
With the win, Saint Mary's pulls back to .500 with a 4-4 record. Kansas State, the defending Big 12 champion, falls to 1-7.
Two days after Kansas State defeated Saint Mary's 9-4, the Wildcats carried a bit of that momentum into Sunday's game. Some tough sun in left field helped things along a bit, but Kansas State plated two in the first against SMC starter Jacob Valdez.
The Gaels evened the score with single runs in the third and fourth, but Kansas State pulled back in front thanks to a sacrifice fly in the sixth. That chased Valdez, who pitched extremely well in lasting into the sixth. He struck out five, walked four, allowed just three hits and just two earned runs before giving way to Cody Kruip.
Saint Mary's made its big move in the seventh. Collin Ferguson led off with a double, then moved to third on a single by Anthony Villa. A walk to Michael Valentin Jr. loaded the bases, chasing reliever Jordan Floyd and bringing in Ethan Landon. Nikko Saenz drove Ferguson in with a sac fly to tie the score, and things got a bit more interesting when Villa and Valentin successfully executed a double steal to each move up a base.
A strikeout gave Landon a chance to get out of the inning, but Darian Ramage was there to deliver the big hit, singling to center to score both Villa and Valentin. That's when Kansas State came unglued a bit, with back to back errors allowing Saint Mary's to finish the inning with five runs and a 7-3 lead.
"I'm starting to see the ball a little bit better," said Ramage, who delivered the clutch hit Sunday. "Coach (Mark) Viramontes is helping me out, just getting the hands back, loading the hands, being able to see the ball and react to it."
From there, the game belonged to right-hander Kurt Jahnke. He worked out of the sixth inning to keep Saint Mary's close, then shut the door from there, finishing with 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his first home appearance of 2014. The final out came via the double play, as Jahnke got reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett to ground into a 5-4-3 twin killing to end the game.
"We played ugly early," Saint Mary's coach Eric Valenzuela said. "The one thing we can't do is make little mistakes like that and those are my fault. Coaching mistakes like not covering second base for Jake Valdez. Those are my fault, so we have to get better at those things. We had to put up a big inning. More two-out goldens, like we talked about. We had great pitching today. It was great to see that from Jahnke. Valdez looked great. That equated to a win."
What Sunday's win also did was put something quantifiable on a very productive weekend of baseball for the Gaels. Going 3-1 on the first home weekend and receiving contributions from nearly everyone on the roster pushed Saint Mary's record back to .500 and restored a bit of faith for a team focused more on the means than the ends.
"After the New Mexico State series, we talked about three phases. You've got to throw quality strikes, you've got to play great defense and you've got to execute offensively," Villa said. "I'd say on this homestand, we did a good job in all three of those phases."
Saint Mary's will get a chance to keep that home momentum rolling next weekend when it hosts San Diego State for four games. The series begins Friday at 2 p.m., then continues with a doubleheader Saturday and one game Sunday. Tickets for all four games are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.