Gators drop to last in CCAA ranks

Despite falling to last place in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Monday, the SF State baseball team believes they will finish this season on a high note.

The Gators are 11-20 overall but just 6-18 in the CCAA. They have yet to win a series in conference play and lost to the Chico State Wildcats 8-1 and 7-6 in a doubleheader match April 5.

Still, the team took a step in the right direction when they hosted the Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes for four games beginning April 1.

“We have lost some close games this season,” said coach Mike Cummins. “We’ve talked about turning things around and people needing to step up. We needed Friday’s and Sunday’s victories.”

The Gators won the first game on Friday 1-0 behind junior lefthander Steven Dea’s eight shutout innings and an RBI single to left-center by junior infielder Nic Gauldin that scored junior outfielder/third baseman Chris Schindler from second in the eighth inning.

However, the team dropped the next two games the following day as SF State lost 6-5 and 8-1, respectively, in a doubleheader April 3.

“Splitting this series was important because in CCAA play we haven’t won a series,” said senior right-handed pitcher Nic Banaugh. “It is never good to lose at home.”

The Gators bounced back and responded Sunday by defeating the Coyotes 4-3 in 12 innings thanks to another solid pitching performance, this time from Banaugh.

Although he did not get the win, but instead was given a no decision, Banaugh threw 132 pitches and went 11 innings, giving up only one earned run on seven hits while striking out two before coming out in the 12th inning for junior outfielder/pitcher Jason Orchart.

“I didn’t think about my pitch count too much,” Banaugh said. “I just went up to do my job and they didn’t hit my pitches.”

Banaugh also said that he couldn’t have pitched the way he did without the help of his teammates who made incredible defensive plays throughout the entire game.

“That was the best defense we have played all year,” Banaugh said. “Everyone in the infield and in the outfield picked me up.”

After making an error in the first inning, which resulted in the Coyotes scoring two runs to open the game, Banaugh settled down once the Gators got on the board in the bottom of the first inning off a fielder’s choice by Orchart and an RBI-single by junior catcher Matt Quintero.

Banaugh cruised through the next 10 innings, allowing just one run to junior catcher Eric Dow.

Dow crushed a ball up the middle in the top of the fourth inning to bring home junior first baseman Brandon Day from second base, giving the Coyotes a 3-2 lead.

“This game was about Nic,” Cummins said. “He buckled down and gave us a chance to win. He was locked in and rolling.”

The Gators’ bats went cold as the team failed to score again until the seventh inning.

With the bases loaded, Orchart hit a sacrifice fly  into left field, giving senior outfielder Ben Mielke enough time to score from third to make it a 3-3 game in the 10th inning.

“Coach is always telling us about the lead-off hitter needing to get to second and eventually home,” said senior catcher Kevin Dultz. “It puts pressure on the other team.”

The Gators had a chance to end the game in the bottom of the 11th inning when they again loaded the bases with just one out.

But the Coyotes had other things in mind and instead forced Wood to line into an inning-ending double play. This strategy turned out to be the right move and deflated the Gators’ momentum at that time in the game, according to Dultz.

“We were a little down when Wood hit a line drive right at senior infielder Erik Ornelas, who then threw Mielke out at second base for a double play,” Dultz said. “But we huddled up and told ourselves that we were going to win this game.”

After catching and pitching in Saturday’s doubleheader, Dultz had just one plate appearance in game four of the series. Nevertheless, his pinch-hit at-bat ended up being the biggest play of the series. With two strikes, Dultz hit a floating fly ball to right field that dropped in for a single, bringing home Schindler, who slid head-first and avoided the tag at home from Dow, scoring the game-winning run.

“Kevin was struggling coming into this series,” Cummins said. “I felt Kevin just gave us the best chance of winning in that situation.”

Dultz’s RBI was his 11th of the season. He said he has experience hitting with runners in scoring position this season.

“We’ve let games go by ever since the beginning of the season,” Dultz said. “The season is not over.”

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