By: Alex Crook, SMCGaels.com Correspondent
MORAGA, Calif. — The longest home stand of the season came to a beautiful end on a beautiful day Sunday in Moraga, as solid veteran pitching from Jake Valdez and late game heroics pushed the Saint Mary’s baseball team to a 3-2 walk-off win over Pacific to complete the sweep at Louis Guisto Field.
The Tigers nursed a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but a heads-up slide into first and sacrifice fly from Brett Rasso proved to be the difference as the Gaels (26-13, 9-6 WCC) swept their second West Coast Conference series this year.
“I challenged our guys today,” head coach Eric Valenzeula said. “I wanted to let them know how important this game is in the big scheme of things where we are in the standings and where other teams are.”
Sunday was the Gaels’ first walk-off win since beating Pepperdine 8-7 in the opening game of last year’s conference tournament. Rasso went 2 for 4 on the day with two singles, but it was his lone RBI that finished off the series.
Valdez, who retired the first eight Pacific batters he saw, tallied a career-high 10 strikeouts through seven innings in his first start since March 31 at BYU.
“I was filling the zone with most of my pitches, had my slider going,” Valdez said. “I had a few weeks where I relieved, worked every single day getting that pitch back and today it did the job.”
Pacific (13-24, 2-16 WCC) opened the scorebook on a fielder’s choice in the fifth inning and tacked on another run a frame later. Meanwhile, the Gaels were held down by pitcher Ricky Reynoso who went six innings with four strikeouts while allowing seven hits.
Saint Mary’s started the top of the eighth in good standing with Rasso’s slide into first, followed by a Zach Kirtley single to put two men on with no outs. After Rasso wheeled home on Edward Haus’ single, Kirtley crossed home on the next at-bat with a single from Jackson Thoreson. Rasso’s sac fly a frame later tied the bow.
“It felt the same (as the WCC Tournament) in the sense that we kept fighting and the window was closing,” Rasso said, “but we just found a way to do it.”
As the Gaels embark now on a road trip that includes a trip to first-place Gonzaga, completing the sweep was the most important thing they could do.
“When we have opportunities,” Rasso said, “we have to put together our best game defensively, pitching-wise and offensively. We can’t let up like we have on Sundays. We have to keep fighting, keep working, keep getting better and I think we’ll pan out alright.”
Saint Mary’s hits the road for a five-game road trip beginning Tuesday at San Jose State before heading to Spokane for a three-game series with the Bulldogs. Fans can tune into the action on SMCGaels.com/GaelVision.
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