In their opening game of the 2019 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Baseball Tournament, the SF State Gators (23-20-1) were unable to keep the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters (32-19) in the ballpark, losing 8-5 on Wednesday, May 5 at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California.
The Otters seemed to have all the answers in the afternoon contest as every time the Gators would have a surge of offense, the Otters would counter right back as the No. 5 Gators fell to the No. 2 Otters 8-5 in the first round of the CCAA postseason.
“Yeah I feel like we were always in the game, in this ballpark two or three runs is nothing,” fourth-year head coach Tony Schifano said. “If you look at the offense today, we left 10 runners on base, and at the end of the day, that’s going to come back and get you.”
There were opportunities left out there for the Gators’ offense and a key moment that could’ve changed the outcome of the game came in the top half of the fourth inning when junior catcher Jason Hare stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the Gators trailing 2-1.
Hare proceeded to slap a sharp grounder up the middle that was snagged with a diving effort by Otters’ shortstop Connor Casperson, that turned into a fielder’s choice. Only one run would score and the Otters escaped the half-inning when the next batter flied out to deep left-center field.
“I think the play of the game was their shortstop making a diving play with the bases loaded, Jason Hare hits that ball up the middle and it looks like we’re going to score two and Casperson makes a great play,” says Schifano. “I know it happened in the fourth inning but I always tell our team that the play of the game can happen on the first pitch or the last.”
Starting for the Gators on Wednesday was junior right-handed pitcher Jack Higgins, who was pulled after only pitching 2-1/3 innings due to a fracture in his foot that he entered the game with. Higgins allowed two earned runs on four hits through his two innings of work.
“Higgins has a fracture in his foot, and he hasn’t pitched in two weeks because of it, and he basically gutted out an inning or two today and it was really hurting him when he went into the stretch,” says Schifano. “So when a guy got on there in the third inning, we decided we can’t push anymore.”
In a dink-and-dunk sort of contest with runs coming by the way of small-ball for both teams, in the eighth inning the ball got its wings as it began to fly out of Stockton’s riverfront ballpark.
In the top half of the eighth, after already bringing home one run by way of three errors committed by the Otters, senior Chris Smutny, entered the game for the Gators as a pinch hitter and blasted the first pitch he saw over the left center field wall to tie the game with a two-run home run.
Smutny was unaware of the importance of his home run as he trotted the bases.
“I didn’t think that we tied it, I thought we were still down one,” says Smutny. “I got back to the dugout and found out we were tied, and that’s when I got excited.”
Unfortunately for the Gators, the Otters also found their power swing in the bottom half of the eighth.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Dylan Madole surrendered back-to-back home runs to Otter infielders Kokko Figueiredo and Kyle Czaplak, giving the game its final score.
“Monterey Bay is a very offensive team and we knew that we were going to have to hold them and unfortunately we didn’t keep them in the ballpark,” Schifano said.
While Smutny’s home run created a moment of momentum, the Gators’ offensive leader was senior infielder Brady Dorn, who went 3-for-4 and scored a run.
Although having only pitched one inning’s worth of baseball, junior right-handed pitcher Nate Jenkins was credited with the loss after walking the final batter he faced who ended up being the winning run via Figueiredo’s home run.
The Gators will try and keep its season alive Thursday, May 9 at Banner Island Ballpark when it plays the top seeded UC San Diego Tritons (35-11).