Originally published on USFDons.com – May 12, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO – There must be some symbolism in a walk-off win where a freshman ties the game in the ninth, a senior delivers the game-winning RBI in his final home series of his career and a head coach nearly two decades at the helm notches his 500th career victory. There’s an element of experience and savvy, sprinkled with a passing of the torch, topped off by a helping of cementing one’s legacy, and it all came to fruition in USF’s 6-5 come-from-behind win over BYU on Thursday afternoon at Benedetti Diamond.
Senior catcher Ryan Matranga battled through a 1-for-4 day at the plate but made his lone RBI count when he stepped up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth and the game tied at 5-5, stroking a game-winning sacrifice fly to center field.
“Once Harry got up I figured they were going to put him on,” said Matranga, who tallied his second walk-off hit of the year (vs. Hawai’i, Feb. 27). “That excited me because that’s where you want to be, you dream about those opportunities. The first pitch he threw me a breaking ball and I felt good about it, then the next pitch he left it right over the middle and I put a good swing on it.”
Nico Giarratano matched his season high with three hits and added a run scored, while Ross Puskarichhit his fourth home run of the season and drove in a season-high three runs and Aaron Ping crushed a solo home run among his two hits on the day.
The walk-off opportunity materialized when Allen Smoot and Puskarich drew consecutive walks to lead off the ninth. Freshman Riley Helland connected for a two-strike pinch-hit RBI single that tied the game before Harrison Bruce was intentionally walked to load the bases for Matranga.
USF (20-31, 14-11) got two scoreless innings of relief by right-hander Mack Meyer (3-2), who earned the win, allowing three hits with a strikeout.
Meyer came on in relief of Anthony Shew to start the eighth and was able to hold off a BYU threat that inning. After allowing consecutive base hits to start the inning, Meyer induced a 6-4-3 double play from Bronson Larsen before striking out Brennon Anderson to escape the jam.
“They’re such a good hitting team,” said head coach Nino Giarratano. “We knew they were going to get hits, but our goal was to not give them opportunities to score. Mack did a good job of getting those holds in those two innings.”
Shew went seven complete innings in the no-decision, surrendering five runs on nine hits while striking out five and walking three.
Shew worked out of jams of his own early in the game. He got Colton Shaver to pop up with runners on first and third in the first inning and coaxed an inning-ending groundout from Brennon Lund with runners on second and third in the second frame.
That all helped add up to Giarratano’s 500th career victory at USF.
“Winning’s not easy,” said Giarratano, who becomes just the third coach in West Coast Conference history to record 500 career wins. “I get to hold the victories, but the kids win them. Naks (Troy Nakamura) gets all of those victories as well, since he’s been with me since day one. Today was their victory, I just get to hold the record, but they play the games.”
Ping jumped on the first pitch from BYU starter Michael Rucker in the third inning, sending it over the left field wall for a solo home run, giving Ping his third long ball of the year and second in as many weekends.
As was the case for much of the game, BYU (32-14, 13-9) answered in their next half inning as Shaver and Keaton Kringlen led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, followed by Lund’s RBI single through an open hole at shortstop as Giarratano was shifted to his right. That helped the Cougars take a 2-1 lead.
Puskarich delivered big for the Dons when he blasted a 1-2 breaking ball from Rucker over the left field fence with two outs and two runners on in the fifth to give the Dons a 4-2 edge.
Anderson again helped the Cougars answer right away with a two-out two-run home run off Shew in the top of the sixth that tied it before Hayden Nielsen drove in the go-ahead run with a single to right that put BYU up 5-4.
The Dons just missed on chances to tie the game in the seventh and eighth. A double play off the bat of Puskarich and a fly out by Brady Bate stranded runners in scoring position in the seventh before Giarratano grounded out to shortstop with runners on first and third in the eighth.
Giarratano added some defensive flair to his three-hit day when he made a pair of web gems in the field. He made a nice play on a ground ball up the middle in the third inning, spinning to fire a strike to first, followed by a full-extension leaping snag in the sixth to rob Daniel Schneemann of a hit.
Due to the walk-off, the game had an unusual ending. After Beau Bozett scored the winning run, BYU tagged first to complete a double play that technically would have resulted in the third out of the inning since Bruce did not tag up on Matranga’s fly out to center. Bruce was ruled out by the first base umpire, which caused BYU to celebrate thinking they had prevented the game-winning from scoring. However, since the run had scored before the final out was made, the run stood and the game was, in fact, over.
Kringlen and Nielsen each tallied three hits apiece for BYU, who entered the series tied for second place in the WCC standings with Gonzaga. Lund and Scheenmann had two hits, while Anderson drove in a pair.
Rucker, who entered the week leading the nation in wins, allowed four runs on eight hits over seven complete innings, while striking out eight and walking four in the no-decision.
Mason Marshall (1-3) took the loss, giving up one run on a hit while issuing two walks in his lone inning of work.
NOTES: 1B Ross Puskarich has hit safely in his last 12 games, the second-longest streak on the team this year… the only other WCC coaches with at least 500 career wins are Rich Hill (USF and San Diego) and John Cunningham (San Diego).
UP NEXT: The Dons and Cougars continue their three-game series on Friday at 3 p.m. from Benedetti Diamond. USF will trot out freshman righty Thomas Ponticelli (3-5, 5.62), while BYU will counter with lefty Riley Gates (2-1, 4.50). All of this weekend’s action can be followed via live stats on USFDons.com and a live video stream on the TheW.tv.