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Wildcats, Zags, Cougars week in review

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | April 22, 2024 5:17 PM

MOSES LAKE — Area college baseball teams continue to battle for positioning with postseason baseball quickly approaching.

CWU

Following a series where the Central Washington University Wildcats went 2-2 against Western Oregon two weekends ago, Central hosted Eastern Oregon for a doubleheader on Saturday.

In the first game, center fielder Max Bledy and catcher Austin Ohland both hit home runs to capitalize a 9-1 win over the Mountaineers. On the mound, Jonathan Garza II — an Othello High School alum — pitched seven innings in the win, surrendering three hits, one walk and striking out 10 batters. 

The nightcap was forced into extra innings after Central tied the game at six in the bottom of the eighth inning after third baseman Kellen Berg scored on a wild pitch. Following a scoreless ninth, 10th and 11th innings, the Mountaineers surged to a five-run top of the 12th inning; Central got three runs back on RBI by second baseman Kevin Varner Jr., first baseman Andrew Sharp and catcher Brady Hinkle, but fell 11-9.

Standing at 19-21 overall and 13-11 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, the end of the regular season is quickly approaching for the Wildcats. Central only has eight games remaining, against two opponents; two doubleheaders against Montana State Billings on Saturday and Sunday, followed by doubleheaders against Northwest Nazarene on May 2 and May 3. 

Central sits at third in the GNAC, behind Northwest Nazarene (17-7 GNAC) and Western Oregon (18-10 GNAC).

Leading the Wildcats at the plate is catcher Ben Leid, who has team-highs in hits (60), RBI (35) and home runs (six). On the mound, Garza has surrendered the fewest hits (44), second-fewest earned runs (23) and has the most strikeouts (64) among the Wildcat starting pitchers this season.

Gonzaga

Coming off a loss to No. 16 Oregon on April 16, the Zags began a three-game home set with Portland on Friday.

In the opener, first baseman Tommy Eisenstat opened scoring with an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning. Portland tied the game at one later in the top of the fifth, but left fielder VIncent Temesvary scored on a fielder’s choice to give the Bulldogs the lead for good, winning 2-1.

Portland took the second game of the series 4-3, outlasting a late comeback bid by the Bulldogs. Trailing 4-0, Gonzaga added two runs on an RBI single by right fielder Sam Stem in the bottom of the fifth and another run on an RBI by catcher Kevin Spear in the bottom of the ninth. On the same play, pinch-runner Hank Dunn was called out at home to end the game.

In the rubber match, Portland jumped out to a 6-1 lead before the Bulldogs rallied to take a 9-6 lead, scoring eight runs across the third and fourth innings. Portland tied the game at nine in the top of the fifth, but four Bulldog runs across the fifth and seventh innings broke the tie and ended the game in a 13-9 win. Designated hitter Payton Knowles, second baseman Hudson Shupe and Eisenstat tied for a team-high three hits, while center fielder Jorden Hamberg drove in three runs in the win.

Gonzaga (16-20 overall) remains atop the West Coast Conference standings with a 12-3 mark in conference matchups. Leading the offense has been Eisenstat, who posts team-highs in batting average (.301), hits (37) and has the fourth-most RBI (17).

WSU

The Washington State University Cougars are coming off a road trip to Tucson over the weekend, where they were swept by Pac-12-leading No. 19 Arizona.

In the series opener, WSU came back from down 5-2 through seven innings to take a 7-5 lead over the Wildcats, thanks to a home run by first baseman Joey Kramer, and two RBI hits by left fielder Max Hartman and shortstop Kyle Russell. Despite capturing the lead, the Cougars gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth, falling 8-7.

Arizona clinched the series win with a 7-1 defeat of WSU in the second game, headlined by a three-RBI day for Wildcat third baseman Maddox Mihalakis. Cougar third baseman Cole Cramer drove in the last WSU run of the day.

While the Cougars sent the final game to extra innings on an RBI single by pinch hitter Ely Kennel in the top of the ninth, Arizona walked the game off in the bottom of the 11th inning on a game-winning RBI from the bat of Wildcat shortstop Mason White. 

WSU fell to 18-20 overall and 7-14 in the Pac-12 with the losses to Arizona. The Cougars stand at ninth in the conference, a game ahead of Washington (6-12 Pac-12).

Cramer’s batting average (.364) and hits (52) are both team highs, while Hartman has driven in a team-high 38 runs this season. Kramer leads the Cougars with seven home runs this spring. On the mound, pitcher Grant Taylor has 65 strikeouts, 21 walks and surrendered 49 hits across 11 starts with an ERA of 3.43.