MORAGA, Calif. -- Since he's only a freshman, Saint Mary's pitcher Cameron Neff has plenty of time to establish lasting memories during his career in Moraga.
When he's all said and done, Saturday's performance will likely rank near the top of the heap.
The right-hander was simply dominant against visiting Penn State, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits to earn his first collegiate shutout as the Gaels defeated the Nittany Lions 4-0 on a sunshine-splashed day in Moraga.
Saint Mary's Saturday starter had it going from the very beginning, working one time through the order without allowing a base runner. Penn State's leading hitter Steve Snyder delivered the first hit of the day to lead off the fourth with a line drive back up the middle, and after an error by the Gaels put runners on first and second, Neff buckled down to strike out the next two and get a ground out.
While Neff was focusing on limiting Penn State's offense, Saint Mary's (7-7) was slowly building a comfortable lead. Ricky Boas continued to swing a hot bat in his first few games of the season, leading the bottom of the first off with a double down the left field line. Ian McLoughlin plated Boas with a sac fly and Neff had a 1-0 lead to work with after just an inning.
Boas scored again in the fifth, albeit under stranger circumstances. His ground ball to Penn State pitcher T.J. Jann got Darian Ramage into a rundown between third and home. Ramage stayed alive long enough for Boas to advance all the way to third, and one batter later Boas scored on a wild pitch to give Saint Mary's the 2-0 lead.
From there, Neff proceeded to close the door. The Salinas, Calif. native retired the final eight batters he faced, touching 92 MPH on the radar gun in the ninth inning to further prove just how strong he was in the final frame. He threw 114 pitches, 79 of which were strikes in quite a rebound from a short outing last weekend against San Diego State.
"My slider was was working early and I really depended on that but late in the game, I was depending on my changeup to get guys out in front and get ground balls for easy outs," Neff said. "My buddy and I in high school, when it got late in games, used to say 'be your own closer.' That's the mentality I like to have late in games."
The Gaels used extra-base hits to plate two more runs late in the game. The first came in the sixth when Michael Valentin Jr. triple over the right fielder to score McLoughlin and make it 3-0. In the eighth, Anthony Gonsolin continued the triple barrage, driving one down the right field line to lead off the inning. Anthony Villa drove him in with a sacrifice fly, and Saint Mary's led 4-0.
Neff closed the game out with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, getting a strikeout, fly out and ground out to end the ballgame. Behind him, the Saint Mary's defense turned in a tremendous nine innings of work, with Boas, Ferguson and Villa each turning in highlight reel plays during the contest.
"The biggest thing is him as a freshman being able to come back after last week," Saint Mary's coach Eric Valenzuela said. "He faced a good team last week and this is a good team, very well coached by Rob Cooper. He has his guys ready. For Cam to come out and do that is special. He was up to 92 in the ninth inning, so he got better as the game went on. That's great to see from a freshman, especially after getting it handed to him a little bit last week."
Now, the Gaels turn the page to Sunday's series finale looking for more. Winners of two against the Nittany Lions already, Saint Mary's will try to finish a sweep and take a winning record into next week's trip to national power Cal State Fullerton.
"It's huge for this program. As we get this program going, we're going to be in this situation hopefully a lot, 2-0 going into Sunday," Valenzuela said. "Great teams, championship teams know how to finish it out on Sundays and know how to win Sunday games regardless of if you're 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2. Sunday is the most important game of it all. This is a huge game for the season, absolutely."