PROVO, Utah — The Santa Clara Broncos made it eight wins in their last 10 West Coast Conference games with an 8-6 victory Thursday night over the BYU Cougars at Miller Park. The Broncos trailed by three heading into the seventh and scored two that inning along with three in the eighth to take the lead for good and claim the series opener.
The Broncos won for just the third time this season when trailing after seven innings with three extra-base hits in two of the last three frames. Their two through six hitters combined for nine of the team's 10 hits, all seven of the team's RBIs and five of the team's eight runs scored.
"These guys never stop competing," head coach Dan O'Brien said. "I can't say enough about how relentless they've been. They never give in, and tonight it helped us come from behind after a rough start to the ballgame."
Senior starter D.J. Zapata allowed three runs (two earned) on ten hits with no walks and one strikeout for the Broncos (23-26, 13-9 WCC), and did not allow a leadoff hitter to reach in Thursday's victory. Jason Seever (W, 2-2) pitched 1.2 scoreless innings to pick up the win in relief and Reece Karalus (SV, 11) retired all six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth to earn his co-conference best 11th save of the season.
BYU senior starter Desmond Poulson allowed four runs (one earned) on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts in 6.0+ innings to finish with a no decision. Senior relief pitcher Chris Howard (L, 0-3) allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits with two strikeouts in one inning for the Cougars (18-29, 8-14 WCC).
With one out in the third, Kert Woods walked for the Broncos and advanced to third on a throwing error by Poulson. Senior center fielder Greg Harisis hit a bunt to the left side that Poulson fielded and threw short of senior first baseman Bret Lopez and into foul territory, putting two runners in scoring position. Sophomore shortstop Jose Vizcaino, Jr. followed with an RBI groundout and freshman catcher Stevie Berman hit a two-out, RBI single in consecutive at-bats to put the Broncos ahead 2-0.
BYU had four straight batters reach in its half of the third, including back-to-back RBI singles from junior designated hitter Dillon Robinson — on a ball that hit off the chest of Vizcaino, Jr. — and senior third baseman Brock Whitney. Tied at 2-2 with the bases loaded and one out, the Broncos turned a double play to end the inning when sophomore third baseman Kyle Cortopassi fielded a ground ball on a high hop, tagged third and threw across the infield in time for the third out.
"We talk all the time about taking a punch, handling adversity, and punching back," O'Brien said. "We were playing some pretty bad baseball there for a while but they never stopped competing and picking each other up. That's becoming their identity as a team."
Santa Clara took its second lead when Woods reached on a dropped third strike with two outs in the fourth, allowing senior designated hitter Quinton Perry to score from third. The Cougars tied the game at 3-3 with back-to-back doubles from Whitney and senior right fielder Kelton Caldwell in the fifth. After two RBI singles made the score 5-3 Cougars in the sixth, BYU scored its sixth run when Kert Woods made a catch at the wall in right, and the relay throw sailed wide of second base with runners tagging from first and second.
"We definitely just fought it out," Vizcaino, Jr. said. "We weren't playing as sharp as we usually do, but this team is all about picking eachother up. We just focused, were able to make some good swings on balls and win the game."
Berman doubled to right center to lead off the seventh and scored on Braff's RBI groundout to short. One batter later, Perry hit a long home run to left field to make the score 6-5. Vizcaino, Jr. hit his first home run of the season — a two-run shot to left — to put the Broncos back in front in the eighth, and Braff's RBI single capped off a span of five runs in two innings, culminating in an 8-6 Bronco lead.
"[Howard] threw me a ball in the dirt, and I didn't look too good on that," Vizcaino, Jr. said. "I looked to coach, he told me to relax so I took a breath, got my foot down early and looked for something up to drive the run in. I ended up putting a good swing, looked up, and the next thing I knew everyone was cheering so I figured the ball went over the fence."
Vizcaino, Jr. led Santa Clara with a 2-for-5 night, drove in three runs and scored one. Berman, Perry, and senior left fielder Casey Munoz each added two hits, and Braff drove in a pair of runs while Woods scored a pair of runs.
"Jose was having a rough ballgame," O'Brien said. "In fact, he was having a rough at-bat before making a huge mid at-bat adjustment. That shows just how far Jose has come as a ballplayer. I'm so proud of him."
Back in the lead for the first time since the fifth, the Broncos called on their closer Karalus to start the eighth. The sophomore struck out the first two batters he faced and retired all six BYU batters in the eighth and ninth to seal the victory.
"As soon as the eighth inning was starting, I saw [Karalus] running in and I yelled at him and said 'Oh, this game's over' and he kind of smiled at me," Vizcaino, Jr. said. "I know he's going to pound strikes, and with all those strikeouts it's fun being behind him. He brings a lot of confidence and presence on the mound."
The Broncos and Cougars play game two of the series Friday for a 6 p.m. MDT (5 p.m. PDT) first pitch. Santa Clara's Peter Hendron (6-3, 3.40 ERA) is scheduled to take the hill against BYU's Jeff Barker (4-5, 4.52 ERA).
Game Notes: First pitch was at 6:06 p.m. … time of game was 3:05 … attendance was 721 … Poulson faced one batter in the seventh.