SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Santa Clara Broncos opened the 2013 season defeating Seattle University 7-6 in front of a full home crowd at Stephen Schott Stadium Friday night. Santa Clara used big sixth and seventh innings to take a lead that would hold nine innings, holding off a late surge from the Redhawks.
Santa Clara starter Mike Couch picked up the win for the Broncos, pitching 7.0 inning while allowing four hits on five runs while striking out three Seattle batters. Seattle starter Andrew Olsen fell to 0-1 allowing four runs on five hits in five innings of work. Junior transfer D.J. Zapata tallied his first save as a Bronco by picking up the last out of the game with a strikeout.
True freshman Kert Woods led off the bottom of the seventh with a base hit for the Broncos, recording his first collegiate hit with Santa Clara. Justin Viele followed with a single of his own, sending Woods to third. After a Mason Stidham balk, scoring Woods, Santa Clara loaded the bases. T.J. Braff worked the count, and Stidham walked in Viele. Stidham was able to escape the jam, striking out Kyle DeMerritt for the final out of the inning.
Santa Clara withstood the Redhawks rally late, and head coach Dan O'Brien was full of praise of the composure his team showed. "I thought our guys did a great job, Seattle came out punching first and we took that punch and punched back," said O'Brien. "Our guys stayed calm, and then it got emotional late, guys started losing control late which is why they didn't throw well. We didn't lose the ballgame but we can learn from this. Those were big mistakes we can't make in the future."
The Redhawks were able to drive in a run in the top of the ninth, forcing Santa Clara to bring in D.J. Zapata on the mound. Zapata walked the first batter he faced, but went on to strike out Steve Kirbach for the final out of the game.
Couch was strong through seven-plus innings. O'Brien was looking to give Couch the ball late in the game. "Mike got the start because he is the greatest competitor on the team and he proved that tonight," said O'Brien. "He is a winner. He got a little tired late but we were looking to see how far we could stretch him."
Olsen, Seattle's starting pitcher, lasted just five plus innings. He exited the game with two Bronco runners aboard and his is replacement, Ben Ruff, did not fare much better. After throwing out the lead runner, Ruff gave up an RBI single to Matt Ozanne, plating Quinton Perry and giving the Broncos the 3-2 lead. Ruff went on to load the bases with two out, and allowed T.J. Braff to score the fourth Bronco run off a wild pitch.
Seattle was able to put together a rally in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with no outs. After a Broncos pitching change, the Redhawks drove in three runs, but Santa Clara was able to close out the inning hanging on to a 7-5 lead.
Seattle's Landon Cray kick-started the scoring for the Redhawks in the top of the third, ripping an RB triple to right field. Cray reached home off a sacrifice fly from Cullen Hendrickson, giving Seattle a 2-0 lead.
Santa Clara was able to tie the score at 2 apiece off of an RBI single from T.J. Braff, scoring Quinton Perry. Casey Munoz sent a sacrifice fly to right field, plating Braff and erasing the 2-run deficit.
The Broncos defensive effort was on full display for the crowd of 619, including diving stops from Kyle DeMerritt and Perry. "Kyle is a winner," said O'Brien. "He makes plays because he is a scrappy player. The defense is going to be the heart and soul of this team. The pitchers will throw strikes and they will make plays behind them. Seattle got back in the game because we stopped throwing strikes.
The Broncos complete the two-game series with Seattle on Sat. Feb. 16, with a 3 p.m. first pitch at Stephen Schott Stadium.