SACRAMENTO -- A pair of right-handers in Sacramento State's Eli Saul and UT Rio Grande Valley's Kevin Stevens went pitch-for-pitch in a classic pitcher's duel to open play at the 2022 Western Athletic Conference Tournament, but it was a pair of two-out hits that edged the Vaqueros just in front, posting a 2-1 victory over the Hornets on Wednesday morning at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz.
Arizona native Jorge Bojorquez (Nogales, Ariz.) finished 3-for-4 and scored the lone run of the day for Sacramento State, which fell to 30-25 overall and will meet either Sam Houston, the top seed out of the Southwest Division, or New Mexico State, the fourth seed out of the West Division, in an elimination game on Thursday morning (May 26) at 9 a.m.
UTRGV improved to 33-23 overall and will meet the winner of the Aggies and Bearkats at 4 p.m.
Saul (6-1) suffered his first loss of the year despite his team-high eighth "quality start" of the season, allowing just the two runs on six hits over 7.2 innings of work, striking out four and getting 13 outs via the ground ball. It was the first time all year that the Hornets had lost one of the Vancouver, B.C., native's starts, entering the tournament a perfect 14-0 on the season.
Stevens (9-2), meanwhile, went eight strong, allowing a run on six hits and striking out 12, while getting some help from his defense in the eighth after a pair of singles and a walk loaded the bases before a 6-4-3 double play ended the threat.
Sacramento State also had the tying run in scoring position in the ninth against closer Ricky Gerik, Jr., thanks to single and a walk, but a strike out and fly ball was enough to end the game, giving Gerik, Jr., his seventh save of the season.
The Hornets were the first on the board in the opening inning after UTRGV had put a pair on in the top half only to come up empty, as Bojorquez doubled to right center and moved to third on a Trevor Doyle ground ball. After a strikeout, junior Martin Vincelli-Simard clutched up and came through with an RBI single to center, easily scoring Bojorquez for the 1-0 lead.
It was an advantage that didn't last long, however, as the Vaqueros clawed the run back with two outs in the second as a walk and stolen base by Jacob Hirsh brought Isaac Lopez to plate, who worked the count full before rolling a single through the left side to tie the game.
That score lasted all the way until the eighth as both pitchers took control. Stevens retired 12 consecutive Sacramento State hitters heading into the eighth after a double play in between a pair of singles helped him out of the third, while Saul retired 15 of 16 UTRGV batters from the third to the seventh innings, allowing only a harmless single by Cameron Blake in the fifth.
With neither pitcher willing to blink, it was the Vaqueros who finally struck for the go-ahead score, again with two outs, in the eighth as Brandon Pimentel singled through the right side and scored all the way from first on Brett Cain's bloop double that fell fair in between a pair of charging Hornets down the left field line for the 2-1 advantage.
Jack Zalasky came on to get the final batter of the eighth and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to give his team the chance to tie, but Sacramento State could not find the timely hit.
After a strikeout, Gunner Gouldsmith reached on a pinch-hit single down the left field line and moved to second on Bojorquez's third hit of the day — a single to centerfield. Doyle then walked to load the bases for Dawsen Bacho, but Stevens wriggled off the hook with a ground ball that turned into an inning-ending double play to keep it a one-run game.
Steven Moretto then singled with one out in the ninth, where he was replaced by Keith Torres, and the Hornets put two on after Jeffery Heard drew a walk before Gerik, Jr., shut the door.
The result marked the 16th one-run contest of the year for Sacramento State, which had won three of its previous four such games.
Meanwhile, Bojorquez tallied his team-high 18th multi-hit game of the year and his third three-hit performance of the season — his first since finishing 3-for-5 against Grand Canyon back on May 6.
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