The Dons concluded a two-match sweep in their trip to the Pacific Northwest with a 4-1 victory over the Portland Pilots on Saturday afternoon in Portland, Ore.
On Sunday, the Dons closed out a three-game series in Los Angeles against LMU on a low note, losing 5-4 on redshirt senior pitcher Houston Hibberd’s eighth-inning balk that sent home the game-winning run.
USF struck first in the third game of the series, building an early 4-0 lead thanks to clutch hitting by senior first baseman Zack Turner and junior center fielder Bradley Zimmer, who has now recorded a hit in 18 consecutive games. LMU, however, scored four runs in the fifth inning, turning a 4-0 deficit into a tie ballgame.
The game remained tied at four until the bottom of the eighth inning, when LMU’s David Edwards proceeded to hit a double, steal third, and then force Hibberd into a balk. Edwards was then awarded a run, putting the Lions up by one. USF had one more chance to respond in the ninth inning, but was unable to convert. The loss puts the Dons (15-15) back at .500 on the season and 5-7 in West Coast Conference play.
On Saturday, San Francisco took care of business against the Lions, winning handily 9-3. The Dons had a big day offensively, scoring eight runs in the first two innings while junior pitcher Christian Cecilio held LMU to just three total runs in a great outing that spanned 6.2 innings. The Dons’ offense took advantage of LMU pitcher Patrick McGrath early and often, as evidenced by Zimmer’s leadoff triple. Junior right fielder Derek Atkinson knocked in Zimmer two batters later with a single back up the middle, and from then on the runs began to pour in.
After the first inning, the Dons had tallied five runs. McGrath would end up surrendering eight runs in 1.2 innings, including six earned, along with nine hits and two walks. Combining Saturday’s win with their victory on Friday, the Dons notched a two-game winning streak for the first time since March 25.
In the series opener on Friday, USF and LMU were locked in a tie ballgame until a three-run eighth inning from the Dons vaulted them ahead for good and helped them secure a 6-4 victory. Junior first baseman Brendan Hendriks broke the stalemate with an RBI single up the middle. An ensuing error by LMU second baseman David Edwards allowed two more to score and put the Dons up 6-3, a lead that would be held by Dons closer Hibberd, who fanned Edwards and forced a game-ending double play to seal LMU’s fate.
Atkinson had a productive day at the plate, accumulating three hits and an RBI. The Dons’ senior right hander Abe Bobb shut down the LMU offense, allowing only three runs to come from 13 hits while not walking a single batter. Senior left hander Ben Graff relieved Bobb, pitching 1.1 innings of perfect baseball to ensure that Hibberd had a chance at the save opportunity.
The result of the Dons’ game against San Jose State on Tuesday, April 8 was not available at press time. The Dons now turn their focus to the Pacific Tigers, whom they will host on Friday, April 11 at 3:00 p.m. in the first game of a three-game series. Pacific is tied with USF for 6th place in the WCC, and is 14-19 overall on the season.
The Dons edged out host UC Santa Barbara 4-3 on Sunday, capping the win with a singles victory by sophomore Nils Skajaa. The lead switched hands a few times, with a key victory coming early from junior Bernardo Saraiva, who claimed the first singles finish and victory of the day in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0.
The Dons’ quest for an NCAA Tournament bid came to a heartbreaking end on Monday, Mar. 10 as they dropped a 79-77 overtime decision to BYU in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. The loss was as disappointing as they come for the Dons, but the pain was eased considerably on Sunday when USF was named a No. 4 seed in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
Dons finish regular season 20-10 with wins over LMU and Pepperdine
The Dons capped off their impressive 20-win regular season on a high note Saturday
night, edging Loyola Marymount 65-61. Backed by a career-high 25 points from sophomore guard Avry Holmes, who was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week, USF took down a short-handed Lions team that only had six players available due to injury.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Dons, who were in the lead for the entire duration of the game. USF held off various runs, including a last-minute surge that included a five-second inbounding violation on the Dons. Despite the miscue, a missed three-pointer by LMU’s C.J. Blackwell, and a subsequent rebound by sophomore guard Tim Derksen kept the lead at 64-61. A free throw by Derksen made it a two-possession game and ended the scoring for the night.
Junior forward Kruize Pinkins registered his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and gathering 11 rebounds. In all, four Dons scored in double figures on the night, including 14 from senior forward Cole Dickerson and 10 from Derksen. The win resulted from a complete team effort, but the hero of the night was clearly Holmes. He scored his last seven points in the final three minutes, including a three-pointer with 3:16 remaining and a circus shot with 33 seconds left. These clutch shots from Holmes were both big buckets that held off late LMU runs.
“When [Avry Holmes] shot it down the stretch, I knew it was going in,” head coach Rex Walters told usfdons.com. “That’s the kind of player he his and the kind of confidence he has in his abilities.”
On Thursday, the Dons played a close first half before outscoring Pepperdine 47-21 in the second half en route to a 77-53 victory. Dickerson led the way for USF in the contest, scoring 21 points on an efficient 7-13 shooting, including a 2-3 night beyond the three-point arc. He also recorded his eighth double-double (22nd in his career) of the year as well, garnering 10 rebounds for the Dons.
An evenly matched first half—Pepperdine held a two-point lead at halftime after clawing
their way back into the game—became ugly for the Waves, as the Dons gained separation at the 12-minute mark of the second half and never looked back. Holmes came on strong in the final 20-minute period, scoring 14 of his 17 points. Pinkins complemented the big games from Dickerson and Holmes, pitching in 12 points in 20 minutes.
USF led by as much as 24 in the game, while the largest lead held by Pepperdine was four, at the outset of the second half. The rebound battle was also uneven, as the Dons held a final advantage of 40-29. Obtaining an advantage in rebounds has proven to be crucial for the Dons, who are 15-4 in games where they outrebound an opponent. USF’s defense was also top-notch, causing Pepperdine to struggle offensively throughout the game. The Waves registered a subpar 33.3 percent shooting percentage on the night, including a 2-16 night from the three-point line (12.5 percent).
“I’m proud of our guys because it’s been about the team,” Walters told usfdons.com. “It’s been a difficult year emotionally for everyone but we’ve come a long way…It’s not over – we have a long ways to go.”
The Dons do have a long ways to go, and they can thank their record for that. A 20-10 final regular season record marks the Dons’ first 20-win regular season since the 1981-82 season, and the second 20-win season in three years under head coach Rex Walters. On Monday, it was announced that Walters had been named the WCC’s Coach of the Year, and Dickerson was also awarded first team All-WCC honors.
Even more admirable than the 20-win season is the Dons’ 13-5 conference record, which placed them in a tie with BYU for second in the conference. Due to the Cougars winning the season series against USF, BYU will be seeded second and the Dons third in the West Coast Conference (WCC) Tournament, which begins this weekend. San Francisco will take a five-game winning streak to Las Vegas for the tournament, where they are schedule to face off against San Diego on Saturday, Mar. 8 at 12:00 p.m.
USF struck first against Pacific on Saturday, but the Tigers took control early and handed the Dons an 83-65 defeat at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif. The Dons’ undoing was not turnovers, as it has been in past games, with both the Dons (9-18, 4-12 West Coast Conference) and Tigers scoring 19 points off of 13 turnovers. Instead, the difference came in the rebound battle, which Pacific won 43-32.
Junior Paige Spietz began the scoring with a layup 20 seconds into the game, but the Dons’ narrow lead would be short-lived. Pacific took a 7-4 lead with 17:40 remaining in the first half and never gave up ground, leading by as much as 20 points during the game. USF kept pace throughout much of the first half but struggled to close the period. After getting as close as 37-30 on a layup from sophomore Zhané Dikes, the Dons allowed Pacific to score the final five points of the half. Despite 50 percent shooting in the second half, the Dons only managed to break the Tiger’s double-digit lead once; sophomore Taylor Proctor’s layup brought the Pacific lead down to nine with 17:24 remaining. However, the Tigers would respond quickly and often, closing out the game for good.
Junior Taj Winston led the Dons in scoring with 17 points, and Proctor pitched in a double-double, putting up 14 points to go with 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, five Tigers scored in double digits, including a game-high 21 from KiKi Moore.
On Thursday, the Dons took on the St. Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, Calif. After playing a very highly contested first half and trailing by only two points at halftime, the Gaels took control in the second half to win 83-64. St. Mary’s held the Dons to 25.8 percent shooting (8-31) in the second half, and capitalized on 15 total second-chance points for the game. Another key to the Gaels’ win was the disparity at the free throw line. Their 27 made free throws on 30 attempts, including a perfect 17-17 in the second half, was decidedly better than a 4-6 overall night at the charity stripe for the Dons.
The lead traded hands a total of 11 times in the first half, but zero times in a second half in which the Gaels outscored the Dons 38-21. The only category where the Dons held an advantage was fast break points, in which the Dons held a 10-2 advantage throughout the game. Aside from that the statistics tell the story of two halves, as the Dons’ second half woes—such as 50% first half to 25% second half in shooting—kept a declining effort from the Gaels from affecting the outcome.
Dikes led the Dons in points and rebounds with 17 and seven, respectively. Winston also contributed 16 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting to go with three rebounds and two steals.
The Dons return home to play Pepperdine—a team they defeated 77-61 on Jan. 4 of this year—at War Memorial Gym on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7:00 p.m. The game is the second-to-last game of the regular season before the beginning of the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.