May 4, 2014

Steffens' Career Effort Leads Broncos Past Dons 2-1

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The Santa Clara Broncos won their third consecutive West Coast Conference series with a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Sunday afternoon at Benedetti Diamond. The Broncos got a career-best effort from starting pitcher Jacob Steffens and held off a ninth-inning rally by the Dons to round out the weekend with a win.

Santa Clara is 7-2 in its last nine West Coast Conference games. For the fourth time in the team's last eight weekend sets, the Broncos fell in Friday's series opener before picking up wins Saturday and Sunday.

Steffens (W, 1-4) threw 7.0 shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks with a career-high nine strikeouts for the Broncos (22-25, 12-9 WCC). He struck out the side in the first and broke his previous career-high of three strikeouts by getting sophomore catcher Ryan Matranga to swing and miss at a 1-2 pitch for the last out of the second. 

"Jake was outstanding today. He stepped up and threw the game of his career against a very good offensive ballclub," head coach Dan O'Brien said. "I can't say enough about Jake Steffens and his effort today."

"I was definitely just trying to full up the zone and throw strikes. I took a little bit off my fastball and was letting the movement work," Steffens said.

The Bronco starter delivered first-pitch strikes to 10 of the first 11 batters he faced and 19 of 28 San Francisco hitters overall. The sophomore retired 10 straight batters from the final out the third to the final out of the sixth.

"It definitely helps a lot because you can make them hit your pitch after that instead of giving them something they can drive," Steffens said of the first-pitch strikes. 

San Francisco starter Sheldon Lee (L. 4-2) threw 5.2 innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts for the Dons (21-25, 9-15 WCC). He had not allowed an earned run in 27.0 innings as a starter entering the game, and the Broncos drove in the first one with two outs in the first. Senior center fielder Greg Harisis led off the game with a double and senior left fielder Casey Munoz drove him in from third with a single to put Santa Clara ahead 1-0. The Broncos scored runs in the first inning of all three games, totaling six on the weekend. 

"Casey Munoz has been at the core of a strong offensive approach as of late," O'Brien said. "He's been a leader, a true veteran hitter who's really coming into his own at the plate. I'm so proud of Casey and how far he's come as a complete all-around ballplayer." 

Munoz led off the sixth with a single — one of his game-high three hits — and reached second on a fielder's choice bunt off the bat of junior first baseman T.J. Braff. After senior designated hitter Quinton Perry's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third, senior second baseman Zach Looney put a squeeze bunt up the first base line. Munoz broke for home on the pitch, and made it safely to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead.

In his final inning of work, Steffens allowed a leadoff single to senior designated hitter Zack Turner and a walk to junior third baseman Bob Cruikshank. Sophomore pinch-hitter Michael Eaton laid down a sacrifice bunt to put the runners at second and third with one out, and Steffens recorded back-to-back swinging strikeouts to end his outing with the two-run lead in tact.

"I went out with the same mentality by going right after hitters, pounding the strike zone and making them hit the ball softly," Steffens said. 

Reece Karalus (SV, 10) entered the game with two outs and a runner on first in the eighth, and got an inning-ending strikeout. In the ninth, the Dons got back-to-back two-out singles, including an RBI single by freshman left fielder Matt Sinatro to make the score 2-1. With the potential game-tying run at second and the potential game-winning run at first, the sophomore struck out freshman shortstop Nico Giarratano to end the game. Karalus struck out three of the four batters he faced to earn his 10th save of the season Saturday.

"What I love about this ballclub is they're always picking each other up," O'Brien said. "Guys who make mistakes are recovering quickly while somebody else picks them up. As a group, their mental toughness has developed more than any other part of their game."

The Broncos return to the diamond Tue., May 6 at Stanford for a 5:30 p.m. first pitch. Their next West Coast Conference series is a three-game road set at BYU (18-27, 8-13 WCC) May 8-10.

Game Notes: First pitch was at 12:59 p.m. … time of game was 2:57 … attendance was 193.