PORTLAND, Ore. — After over 100 years of playing baseball, more than 1,000 wins in the modern era, multiple first-round draft picks and even a Hall of Famer, history was made Sunday by the Saint Mary’s baseball team, as the Gaels won their first-ever West Coast Conference championship by beating Portland 5-2 to complete a three-game sweep at Joe Etzel Field.
The Gaels (30-22, 18-9 WCC) marked their best-ever season in the WCC by reaching the 30-win plateau for the first time in 25 years and winning their first conference title. Saint Mary’s finished the WCC season in a three-way tie for first place with BYU and Gonzaga, but thanks to series wins over both teams this season the Gaels will be the No. 1 seed at next week’s WCC Championship Tournament in Stockton.
“Credit our team for their hard work, dedication and never making excuses when times were tough,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Eric Valenzuela. “We have great senior leadership and young guys who get after it. The future is bright and our work isn't done. We have a big game at Pac-12 power Oregon and then the WCC Tournament that has four regional-caliber teams. But we're going to enjoy this one today!”
Purchase tickets for the 2016 WCC Championship Tournament, being held Thursday-Saturday at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, less than 90 minutes away from Moraga, by clicking here. WCC Baseball Championship tickets are currently available at the Stockton Ports Box Office, over the phone at (209) 644-1900, and online at stocktonports.com. Tickets for the tournament start at $6 for students and seniors, $12 for MVP seating, and $15 for Club seating (available exclusively for Ports’ Season Ticket Holders).
The tournament will pit top-seeded Saint Mary’s versus BYU (No. 2), Gonzaga (No. 3) and Pepperdine (No. 4) in a double-elimination format to determine who earns the WCC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels will face No. 4 seed Pepperdine at 3 p.m. on Thursday in the first round. Day 2 on Friday features three games starting at noon, with the day’s competition determining who will play in Saturday’s championship.
Sunday was much of the same in the series for Saint Mary’s as the Gaels rode another strong starting pitching performance to the win. After back-to-back complete games by Corbin Burnes and Johnny York Friday, it was Cameron Neff who shut down Portland, striking out nine and only allowing one unearned run in seven innings. Drew Strotman closed out the victory with three strikeouts, no walks and only one hit in two innings.
Zach Kirtley broke out of a 1 for 10 slump in the first two games of the series by going 2 for 4 with three RBIs, a double and a walk. Kirtley was clutch for the Gaels all game long. It was his RBI double in the top of the third inning that broke a scoreless tie and gave SMC a 1-0 edge. And in the top of the eighth in a close 2-1 game and the WCC title on the line, Kirtley singled into center field with two outs and the bases loaded to expand Saint Mary’s lead to 4-1 and send it to victory.
The Gaels took advantage of four two-out walks and Kirtley’s two-out RBI single to score three runs in the top of the eighth and secure the victory. The Gaels drew 10 walks in the game, but also struck out 11 times. Portland starter Kevin Baker (0-5) surrendered just one run on four hits in six innings while striking out nine, but suffered the loss.
For up-to-date news, photos, videos and other features you can follow Saint Mary’s College varsity athletic teams on Twitter (@SMCGaels), Instagram (@SMCGaels) and Facebook (Facebook.com/SMCGaels). You can also watch great video on-demand highlights and features as well as most Gaels sporting events live via GaelVision on SMCGaels.com.
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