Christian Cecilio carried the Dons to their sole victory in the three-game series with UC Riverside. The left-hander only allowed five hits in just over five innings pitched. (Photo Courtesy of Dons Athletics)

Baseball: Dons Win One, Drop Series to Highlanders

The Dons opened their season last weekend in Riverside, Calif. against the UC Riverside Highlanders. It was a rough start to the season for the Dons, but they still managed to grab a victory on the road in their three-game series.

On Sunday afternoon, with the series tied at one game apiece, USF hoped to squeeze out a win and come home with a winning record. Unfortunately, the Highlanders defeated San Francisco 8-5 in a game where both teams exchanged runs in almost every inning.

UC Riverside got on the board in the first inning, and from then on the Dons would have to answer back to every run scored by the Highlanders. In the top of the second, junior designated hitter Brendan Hendriks’ single would score junior right fielder Derek Atkinson to even the game at 1-1, but in the third UC Riverside fired back to take a 3-1 lead.

Trailing in the fourth, the Dons loaded up the bases for freshman shortstop Nico Giarratano. However, the Dons left all three men stranded as Giarratano flied out to right field.

In the top of the ninth inning, after UC Riverside had doubled the Dons score 8-4, USF was looking to start a late rally. First, junior center fielder Bradley Zimmer scored off of senior first baseman Zach Turner’s single. Then, with one out and two men on base, the Dons had the tying run at the plate but were not able to capitalize, eventually losing by a final score of 8-5.

Zimmer and Atkinson both had three hits in their five at-bats, while Turner added two hits for the Dons.

On Saturday afternoon, the Dons captured their only victory of the three-game series, beating Riverside 6-3. The winning pitcher, junior left hander Christian Cecilio, delivered a stellar pitching outing, allowing only five hits, three walks, and one run over 5.1 innings pitched.

In the first inning, Turner gave the Dons an early lead by scoring Giarratano off of a single to left field. In the second, a sacrifice fly from sophomore left fielder Harrison Bruce brought junior third baseman Bob Cruikshank home to give the Dons a 2-0 lead. Bruce collected two RBI’s (runs batted in) on the game.

The next batter after Bruce was leadoff hitter Matt Sinatro. The freshman second baseman scored his teammate Hendriks on an RBI single that got past Highlanders third baseman Cody Hough.

UC Riverside attempted to rally back from their 3-0 deficit with support from a solo home run from second baseman Nick Vilter, along with RBI’s from shortstop Austin Roberts and first baseman Francisco Tellez. However, their efforts would not be enough as the Dons kept rolling.

In the fourth, Bruce got his second RBI, and Atkinson put a pair of RBI’s on the board when he drove in Giarratano in the fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

The Dons swung for 11 hits throughout the game, three of which were doubles.

“I think emotionally we got ahead in the first inning,” head coach Nino Giarratano told “That was big for us. We swung the bats way better today.”

On Friday night in the Dons season opener, things went worse than expected for USF. San Francisco gave up a 16 hits and lost by a total of 10-2 in the first game of their series with UC Riverside. On the bright side, many freshmen made their Dons debut, including Sinatro, Giarratano, right handed pitchers Mack Meyer and Andy Frakes, and outfielders Cody Snider and Dylan Parks.

The result of the Dons contest against No. 18 Kansas State on Feb. 18 at the Benedetti Diamond was not available at press time. The Dons will look to improve on their up-and-down start to the season when they head to Cal State Fullerton for three straight games against the Titans, the first of which is on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:00 p.m.

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