Gators sweep doubleheader behind untouchable Hernandez

Matthew Hernandez pitches for the Gators in doubleheader against CSU Dominguez Hills on Friday, April 28, 2017. (Eli Walsh/ Xpress)

SF State’s baseball team allowed only two runs Friday at Maloney Field, winning both games of a doubleheader against California State University, Dominguez Hills to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.

The Gators struck first against Toros starting pitcher Joe Bresson, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning. Right fielder Jacob Lopez doubled to lead off the inning and scored two batters later on a single by third baseman Bryce Brooks. First baseman Jordan Abernathy doubled in Brooks with two outs in the inning. The Gators added one more in the second on an RBI single by Lopez to widen the lead to 3-0.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hernandez started the game on the mound for the Gators. After allowing hits in the first and second innings and working through traffic, Hernandez kept the Toros hitless until the eighth inning.

“My confidence has been up a lot higher especially because our defense has been playing a lot better lately,” Hernandez said. “And we’ve been winning more games so it’s just been funner to be out there.”

Hernandez finished the shutout in fewer than 100 pitches, allowing three hits and no walks while racking up eight strikeouts. In his past three starts, Hernandez was 3-0 with a 0.75 earned run average and just 10 hits scattered across 24.1 innings. Hernandez also struck out 13 in the same time frame.

“My slider was working really well, it was a great putout pitch today,” Hernandez said. “I just trying to fill up the zone and put them away with the slider.”

Head coach Tony Schifano said Hernandez has “without a doubt” established himself as one of the team’s best starting pitchers going forward.

“When he threw his first bullpen, we felt so blessed that we had a young arm like that, that we can mold and develop,” Schifano said.

The Gators added another run in the fifth inning on an Abernathy RBI single to make the lead 4-0.

“He’s one of those special players that gets it and wants to get better every outing,” Schifano said of Hernandez.

In game two, the Gators again scored first, this time on an RBI single to right field by right fielder Myles Franklin. Entering the game the Gators were 11-5 when scoring first this season.

Eli Walsh / Xpress

Jack Harris up to bat for the Gators in their doubleheader against CSU Dominguez Hills on Friday, April 28, 2017 at Maloney Field. (Eli Walsh/ Xpress)

Dillon Houser started for the Gators and held Dominguez Hills scoreless until the fourth inning when they Toros took their first lead of the day thanks to two doubles and two singles from their 5-6-7-8 hitters.

The Toros didn’t hold the lead for long, however, as the Gators loaded the bases on a walk, an error and hit-by-pitch with no outs in the bottom of the fourth.

Freshman center fielder Jack Harris singled to left with two strikes to drive in two and give the Gators a 3-2 lead. The single gave Harris his seventeenth RBI of the season.

In the sixth inning, with the Gators leading 4-2, Harris did more damage, lining his sixth home run of the season into the trees behind the left field fence to give the Gators a 5-2 lead.

“I came out here not really expecting too much because I know how big the field is,” Harris said. “I think I’m just getting more elevation on the ball this year so that’s allowing it to carry out.”

Power is “the one tool that’s hard to teach” according to Schifano, “and (Harris) has it.”

Andrew Najeeb-Brush, normally a starting pitcher, took over for Houser in the seventh. Houser finished the game with six innings pitched, allowing two runs on eight hits and striking out one.

The Gators padded their lead with a run scoring on a wild pitch in the eighth, while Najeeb-Brush allowed three hits but no runs over the final three innings, earning a three-inning save.

“We pitched, I think, as well as we can pitch,” Schifano said, lauding Hernandez, Houser and Najeeb-Brush.

The win in game two is the Gators’ fourth in a row and the eighth in their last 11.

“You want to end strong,” Schifano said. “We’d like to sweep tomorrow but going into Pomona (next weekend)…I feel good about the direction we’re going.”