SF State pitcher Andrew Najeeb-Brush tossed his best start of the season on Saturday, shutting out California State University, San Bernardino on three hits as the Gators split a conference doubleheader against the Coyotes.
“What a phenomenal performance,” head coach Tony Schifano said, referring to Najeeb-Brush. “That was fun to watch.”
Najeeb-Brush threw a perfect top half of the first inning on 11 pitches. In the bottom half, the Gators put two on base to start the inning thanks to a walk and an error by San Bernardino. After a fielder’s choice, catcher Dalton Pizzuti drove an RBI single to center to give the Gators a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
First baseman Chris Nicholson singled after Pizzuti to make it 2-0. The Gators plated their third run of the game the next inning on a trio of singles from Bryce Brooks, Zac Neumann and Sam Schmidt.
Meanwhile, Najeeb-Brush didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, but ran into trouble when the Coyotes loaded the bases with one out. He got a flyout to right and struck out Coyotes DH Tyler Robles to escape the jam.
“Once we got deeper into the game I was able to use my slider, and that was working really well,” Najeeb-Brush said. He said his fastball was working early in the game.
After the fourth inning jam, Najeeb-Brush didn’t allow a runner past second base for the rest of the game. In his last four starts, Najeeb-Brush had a 1.93 ERA as well as 16 strikeouts and just four walks in 29 innings.
“He wasn’t here in the fall, he was at a junior college,” Schifano said. “So he’s starting to get into the kind of shape guys are in if they’re here the whole fall.”
The Gators added a fourth run in the eighth inning on a single to left by right fielder Myles Franklin. Najeeb-Brush allowed a one-out single in the top of the ninth but on his 111th pitch, he induced a 6-4-3 double play to complete the 4-0 shutout.
Najeeb-Brush said it wasn’t a difficult decision, personally, to go back out to the mound for the ninth inning. “I come out to the field thinking to myself every game is going to be my game, as if I’m going to throw nine innings every game,” he said.
Ryan Bohnet started game two for the Gators and quickly allowed a run to the Coyotes on a double to left and a single to right. The Gators answered back in the bottom half of the first, however, with back-to-back-to-back singles by Jacob Lopez, Jordan Abernathy and Dalton Pizzuti.
For Pizzuti, it was his fourth hit in five at-bats and his second RBI of the day. Pizzuti went 3-4 with an RBI in game one and 2-4 with an RBI in game two.
“I’ve been talking to my hitting coach and figuring out how people are starting to throw me,” Pizzuti said about his recent success. “This is my fourth year in the league so people have a good feel for what kind of hitter I am.”
Pizzuti was hitting .111 entering the Gators’ March 10 game against Stanislaus State. Since then, he’s gone 13-38 with six RBI, a double and a home run to raise his average to .246.
“Dalton’s always been a really good hitter,” Schifano said. “His first two years he didn’t get much of an opportunity so I think Dalton is one of those guys, now that he’s playing every day you’re seeing the kind of talent that he has.”
“I just need to continue fighting off their pitches and hitting pitches that are for me,” Dalton said.
Bohnet allowed another run to the Coyotes on a pair of singles in the fourth but the Gators tied the game again on a single to left center by shortstop Jackson Kritsch. Kritsch got to third base with one out on a pair of wild pitches by Coyote starter Jon Ferrendelli. Left fielder Jacob Lopez walked, but the Gators couldn’t capitalize as Jordan Abernathy grounded into a double play to end the inning.
“We definitely missed some opportunities,” Schifano said. “You know, you’re upset with your own guys when you lose those opportunities but you also have to tip your hat to their pitchers.”
The Coyotes finally broke the tie for good in the seventh with a triple and a single with one out. In the next inning, the Coyotes added two more off of reliever Cy Vojak to make it 5-2.
The Gators put the tying run on base in the ninth when they loaded the bases with two outs. Singles by Pizzuti and Nicholson brought Myles Franklin to the plate, who was hit with a two-strike breaking ball. Catcher Johnny Juarez then pinch-hit and flied out to center, clinching a win for San Bernardino. Junior reliever Brian Conley earned the save for the Coyotes.
For the fourth time in 10 chances this season, the Gators won game one and lost game two of a doubleheader.
“It’s a mental grind,” Schifano said. “That’s probably the next step you take as a program, to be a championship program and get into the playoffs, you win these tough games in the second part of a doubleheader.”
“It’s a matter of just grinding it out and keep trying and eventually you’ll do it,” he said.
The Gators will vie for a series victory against the Coyotes on Sunday, April 2. First pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. at SF State’s Maloney Field.