SF State baseball lost their season opener against the Azusa Pacific Cougars 7-3 on Thursday, Feb. 1 at newly renovated Maloney Field.
A 5th inning grand slam by Azusa Pacific’s Sophomore 2nd baseman Nick Estrella ruined what had been a masterful and controlled outing for SF State’s Senior pitcher Matt Hernandez.
SF State head baseball coach Anthony Schifano was pleased with Hernandez despite the pitcher’s loss.
“He was tremendous, he’s a legitimate frontline Friday ace,” said Schifano about Hernandez’ performance.
Hernandez said he would learn from the outing. “That’s why you play games like these,” he said.
Although SF State would mount a comeback to get the score to 4-3 in the bottom of the 6th with runners in scoring position, Azusa Pacific would load the bases on reliever Daniel Jimenez in the 7th and score 3 more runs on the SF State bullpen before Senior reliever Jordan Yrastorza retired the side to end the inning.
Schifano described the 7th inning capitulation from his bullpen as “growing pains,” and said that the “young and inexperienced” bullpen gave Azusa Pacific “free passes.”
“A team like that is gonna hurt you if you give them free bases,” said Schifano.
Senior pitcher Grant Vogenthaler thought the team had a good performance in the first game of the season. “If a couple balls bounce our way, it would have been a much different outcome,” said Vogenthaler.
The game was a pitcher’s duel until the 5th, with both Hernandez and Azusa Pacific Isaiah Carranza throwing scoreless baseball. Hernandez was headed for another scoreless inning when he walked Azusa Pacific’s Junior catcher Justin Gomez with two outs.
A 1-2 pitch to left fielder Pablo O’Connor got past catcher Johnny Juarez and would advance Gomez to 2nd and allow O’Connor to reach 1st. Azusa Pacific DH Austin Russ would battle Hernandez to earn a walk and bring up Estrella with the bases loaded.
Perhaps frustrated with the knowledge that the inning should have been over or with the noise coming from the players in the visiting dugout, who seemed to sense something brewing, Hernandez would surrender a 2-out grand slam to Estrella with Russ, O’Connor and Gomez scoring to make it 4-0. The damage done, Hernandez would retire Osvaldo Tovalin to end the inning. Estrella finished the game with 5 RBIs.
The Gators immediately answered. Junior third baseman Antone Self singled to start the bottom of the 5th and left fielder Connor Fidone followed with a bunt to advance Self and place runners on 1st and 2nd for the Gators.
A wild pitch by Carranza advanced both Self and Fidone to 2nd and 3rd. Another wild pitch with two strikes to Senior right fielder Jordan Abernathy allowed him to reach first and also score Self to make the score 4-1.
Sophomore shortstop Jackson Kritsch, who went 5-for-5 with 1 RBI, singled off Carranza to make the score 4-2 and place runners on 1st and 3rd for the Gators. However, the next batter, Junior DH Chris Smutny, flew out, stranding two runners and ending the inning.
The Gators scored a run in the 6th off the strength of a Jack Harris triple and first baseman Harley Lopez’s single to make the score 4-3. Hernandez retired the Cougar bats in order to give SF State optimism that they could finish mounting their comeback.
Those hopes were dashed by the 3-run 7th inning that SF State’s bullpen would give up to Azusa Pacific to make the score its final, 7-3.
Schifano seemed relaxed when he spoke after the loss. “There’s no reason to panic, it’s just one game,” Schifano said.
SF State and Azusa Pacific play the first game of a doubleheader at Maloney Field on Friday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m.