Harris hits two homers, Hernandez dominates, Gators split doubleheader

SF State first baseman Chris Nicholson hits a foul ball at a game against CSUMB at SF State on April 14, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. (Alina Castillo/Xpress)

SF State’s baseball team split a doubleheader with California State University, Monterey Bay, in the first two games of a four-game conference series on Friday at Maloney Field.

The Otters took an early lead in game one when designated hitter Jordan Esposo reached on an error to lead off the game and scored later in the inning to give Monterey Bay a 1-0 lead. The Otters added runs in the third and fifth off Gator starting pitcher Andrew Najeeb-Brush.

The Gators got on the board in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out RBI single by right fielder Jacob Lopez. In the sixth, Brett Elgin relieved Najeeb-Brush and allowed two singles before getting pulled in favor of Nathan Pisciotta, who allowed two runs to score on another single and a fielder’s choice.

The Otters held onto a 5-1 lead until the seventh inning when the Gators loaded the bases with one out. Otter reliever Drew Kozain then hit Robbie Carling with an 0-2 fastball to force in a run for the Gators.

“They started making mistakes because they’re on their heels,” said head coach Tony Schifano.

A wild pitch by Kozain to the next batter, Zac Neumann, allowed another run to score, cutting the Otters’ lead to 5-3. Neumann grounded out to shortstop, scoring Lopez and moving Carling to third to put the tying run 90 feet away. Designated hitter Jordan Abernathy tied the game on a first-pitch double to left center.

“That was unbelievable,” Schifano said. “It’s one of those things, when you put together quality at-bats, anything can happen.”

The next batter, catcher Johnny Juarez, grounded out to second base to end the inning, stranding the go-ahead run at second.

Left-hander Cy Vojak came in to pitch for the Gators in the eighth, allowing two singles but picking off the runner at second base. Vojak walked the next hitter and was subsequently pulled from the game. Cole Lang came into the game for Vojak and got a groundout and a flyout to end the inning and escape the jam.

In the bottom of the eighth, freshman center fielder Jack Harris homered over the tree line in left field to put the Gators ahead 6-5.

“I’m just trying to get good swings on the ball,” Harris said. “Trying to put what I’ve been working on in practice and in the cages into the games.”

Lang came back out to the mound in the ninth in attempt to close out the win for the Gators. Lang allowed a single, a hit-by-pitch and balked to move both runners to second and third with none out. Lang allowed a single down the third base line to Otter center fielder Nick Vigo that put runners on the corners and tied the game at six.

“It’s that old cliché, the last three outs are the hardest three outs,” Schifano said. “Everybody wishes they had a Mariano Rivera at the end of a ballgame.”

Grant Vogenthaler came to relieve Lang and promptly walked first baseman Jacob Tonascia to load the bases. Vogenthaler finished the inning but not before allowing three runs to score on an RBI groundout and a pair of wild pitches.

“It’s obvious we have some issues right now in our bullpen,” Schifano said. “We’re trying to figure out who can come in and at least just throw strikes and give us a chance.”

Otter closer Kyle Brown struck out the side in the ninth inning, his second inning of work, earning his second win of the season. Lang took the loss, his first, after being charged for three ninth inning runs.

Matthew Hernandez started game two for the Gators and nearly threw a complete game, going 8.1 innings and allowing two runs on four hits and a walk with three strikeouts.

Hernandez held the Otters hitless until the fourth and allowed only three hits heading into the ninth inning.

“I was feeling great, my fastball was what got me through that game,” Hernandez said. “I was able to keep it down which is the biggest thing.”

While Hernandez kept the Otters’ bats silent, the Gators were able to gain some run support.

After a groundout to start the bottom of the fourth inning, Abernathy, playing first base, singled and scored on a home run by Jack Harris to dead center field. Harris’ clout was not a wall-scraper, easily clearing the center field fence, which measured 415 feet from home plate.

“I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen a ball leave center field yet in my two years here,” Schifano said.

The home run was Harris’ fourth in three games.

“We knew he had the potential to hit the home run but no one saw four in three games,” Schifano said.

Catcher Mike Phelan and third baseman Robbie Carling followed Harris’ homer with a single and a double to put runners at second and third. The next hitter, Zac Neumann, singled to center to drive in Phelan and Carling, pushing the Gators’ lead to 4-0.

The Gators scored two more in the sixth inning when DH Cole Lang singled to right center field with the bases loaded, but the 6-0 was more than enough for Hernandez.

“I had the easiest job on the field today, to be honest,” Hernandez said, crediting Phelan and the rest of the Gator defense for playing clean behind him and not committing any errors. “They did all the work for me.”

The junior right-hander stalled in the ninth, allowing a walk and a single, as well as hitting a batter before being lifted for Brent Montgomery, who induced two groundouts and sealed the win for the Gators.

“It was huge,” Schifano said of Hernandez. “We needed a shot in the arm and he gave it to us.”