Gators look to make late-season conference splash

Tony Schifano, head coach of the SF State Gators mens baseball team, speaks strategy with catcher, Dalton Pizzuti (29), during a game against the Monterey Bay Otters in which SF State lost 0-7 in San Franicsco, Ca on Saturday, Mar. 19, 2016. (Alex Koffman / Xpress)

Under new head coach Tony Schifano, the Gators are off to a solid 16-17 start, but must keep their foot on the gas as they look to make a push into the postseason with an underwhelming 9-13 conference record.

The Gators started out the season strong, winning seven of their 12 first games, a better start than the past few years. Last year’s team started 4-10, and in 2014 the Gators started 6-6.

Last year, the Gators were dead in the water from the start. 2014’s team was the last time the Gators had a sniff at the playoffs. They started out strong with an 11-7 record in their first 18 games, but a bad string of losses in the middle of the season tore their postseason aspirations apart. A 12-game losing streak would push them down to 11-19 and out of playoff contention early.

With a little more than two weeks left in the current season, it’s do-or-die for the Gators, who will need their best players to take the team to new heights.

Myles Franklin will be key to the Gators’ success down the stretch. He leads the team with a .379 batting average, which ranks eighth in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Franklin has also hit nine doubles, two triples and one home run. Bryce Brooks’ .336 overall batting average and 18th ranking gives the Gators two players in the top 20 batting averages in the CCAA.

SF State Gators head coach Tony Schifano (left) talks to Gator pitcher Brent Montgomery (31) during their 8-7 win over Cal State Los Angeles at Maloney Field at SF State on Friday, March 25, 2016. (George Morin / Xpress)

SF State Gators head coach Tony Schifano (left) talks to Gator pitcher Brent Montgomery (31) during their 8-7 win over Cal State Los Angeles at Maloney Field at SF State on Friday, March 25, 2016. (George Morin / Xpress)

Ryan Bohnet’s strong arm will be pivotal for the Gators, as he leads the team with a 2.97 ERA and ranks him 15th in the conference. Bohnet leads the team with 28 strikeouts and an opponent batting average of .274.

Ulices Moreno has the second-lowest ERA on the team at 3.44, but is closely followed by fifth-year player Peter Reyes’ 3.90 ERA. Moreno and Reyes rank 22nd and 25th respectively in the CCAA in ERA. Reyes has thrown 23 strikeouts while Moreno has thrown 21.

The Gators have also had one CCAA player of the week award winner in Chris Nicholson. He had eight hits, which included four doubles and three home runs in four games. The award came for the week of March 28 through April 3 where the Gators won three games and lost one. Nicholson is the first Gator to win the award since April 2014.

Nicholson and other key players will try not to falter down the stretch, like the team did in 2014. The current team started out the season strong, earning a 16-13 record before dropping four straight, two to the UC San Diego Tritons. The Gators are sitting in fifth place of the North Division of the CCAA with a 16-17 record.

An early-season three-game series in which the Gators were swept by the Fresno Pacific and a mid-season five-game losing streak against CSU Dominguez Hills and Cal State Monterey Bay have hurt the Gators’ record the most.

Their 13 losses are tied for second-worst in the conference, but third-place Cal State East Bay is only four conference wins ahead of SF State with 13 wins. The Gators have lost and won a game against the Pioneers this season, but their most recent game was dominated by the Gators, who had 23 hits and won 14-3.

This season also includes a five-game win streak, where the Gators swept the Academy of Art in a three-game series, pounded the Sonoma State University Seawolves 6-1, and then stole a game against the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos.

With 15 games remaining, the Gators will have to play smart, mistake-free baseball to have a chance at the playoffs.